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WHO stance on homeopathy could harm Third World

The WHO is being too slow to revise its 4-year long endorsement of homeopathic remedies for childhood diarrhoea.

The WHO is being too slow to revise its 4-year long endorsement of homeopathic remedies for childhood diarrhoea.

On 6-7 June, a conference entitled "Homeopathy for developing countries" took place in the Netherlands. It was sponsored by two of the largest manufacturers of homeopathic remedies (Heel and Helios). The subjects included topics such as

• Theory of epidemics and its significance in treatment AIDs in Tanzania, a homeopathic journey (Jeremy Sherr)

• Treating malaria with homeopathy in Tanzania (Sigsbert Rwegasira)

• Malaria and research (Martien Brands)

Other topics were TB, influenza and infant diarrhoea. The programme includes statements like "a small set of remedies is often enough to treat acute diseases" or "we believe homeopathy is ideal for third world countries". Needless to say that there is no good evidence to show that homeopathy would generate any meaningful benefit for people suffering from these infections.

A group of early career medics and researchers, many of whom have worked in developing countries, were quite obviously alarmed by all this. They decided to write to the WHO pointing out that homeopathy is not an effective treatment for these conditions and asking the WHO to make it clear that homeopathy can neither prevent nor treat any of them. "Those of us working with the most rural and impoverished people of the world already struggle to deliver the medical help that is needed. When homeopathy stands in the place of effective treatment, lives are lost", the letter states.

This letter comes at a time when the WHO might be about to publish a major report on homeopathy. The draft of this document has been heavily criticised in the Lancet because it seemed an exercise in cherry picking the evidence for homeopathy, while the evidence against it was neglected. Thus it explicitly endorsed the treatment of childhood diarrhoea with homeopathic remedies!

This was 4 years ago. The WHO has told me recently that they are still revising their document – quite a revision that takes that long, if I may say. Perhaps the WHO was so embarrassed that they binned the whole thing? Just dreaming – so sorry.

Professor Edzard Ernst Recent posts

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