A number of doctors from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Geneva-based U.N. medical agency, recently issued statements opposing the use of homeopathic cures for people with serious illnesses.
Many people around the world believe in the healing effects of homeopathy, an alternative form of medicine that emerged from Germany about 200 years ago. But the WHO doctors say there is little or no scientific evidence to support the practice.
A CONTROVERSIAL ALTERNATIVE
One of homeopathy’s central principles is called the “law of similars.” The idea is that diseases can be cured by ingesting small amounts of substances that produce symptoms similar to those of the disease itself.
For example, homeopathy proposes that a headache can be cured by swallowing the diluted form of a substance that causes headaches.
Sometimes homeopathic remedies are so diluted that none of the supposed healing substance is left in them. Homeopathic practitioners say this does not preclude a cure. They say even the most diluted potions contain the “memory” of the substance once in it and can therefore still have a healing effect.
Because homeopathic remedies contain little or no active ingredients, they are regulated by the U.S. government in the same manner as over-the-counter drugs, and do not require a prescription.
Homeopathy supporters claim wide support in Europe, Latin America and India. They say there are 186 homeopathic colleges in India alone, with nearly a quarter million homeopathic practitioners there.
DOCTORS SUPPORT EVIDENCE-BASED APPROACH
A group of medical researchers in Britain recently raised objections to the use of homeopathic treatments in developing countries for serious diseases, such as tuberculosis, diarrhea, influenza, malaria and HIV.
“We need governments around the world to recognize the dangers of promoting homeopathy for life-threatening illnesses,” said Dr. Robert Hagan in a BBC interview. “We hope that by raising awareness of the W.H.O.’s position on homeopathy we will be supporting those people who are taking a stand against these potentially disastrous practices,” he said.
Paula Ross, chief executive of the Society of Homeopaths, dismissed the remarks as a “poorly wrapped attempt to discredit homeopathy.”
But a number of doctors from the World Health Organization agreed with their British colleagues. “Our evidence-based WHO TB treatment/management guidelines, as well as the International Standards of Tuberculosis Care do not recommend use of homeopathy,” said Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the Stop TB Department of the WHO. At least four other WHO officials also issued similar statements denying the effectiveness of homeopathy.