Homeopath, Ebola and New Zealand – a follow-up

By Grant Jacobs 23/11/2014 5


About three weeks ago I wrote in a comment following a post about a New Zealand member of Parliament supporting homeopathy to treat Ebola:

Also, it would be interesting to see if governments (internationally) will step up and condemn these homeopaths that aim to push their remedies on Ebola patients, in a similar way that governments condemn those that join Islamic militant groups or do similar counterproductive activities. I suspect they’ll simply say nothing despite the obvious trouble this may cause. (See the Guardian article for some background on this. The Homeopathy Without Borders group also took some members to Haiti after the earthquake, aiming the treat cholera…)

I’m learning belatedly and second-hand (or third-hand…) that the World Health Organisation has blocked homeopaths from offering their remedies in Liberia. These look to be members of another homeopathy group, the Liga Medicorum Homeopathica Internationalis.

The writer of that blog is an oncologist writing under a pseudonym. (As he points out himself from time to time, it’s not hard to find out who he is.) He takes his lead from a Daily Mail piece that, to be very polite, gives the homeopathy group too much leeway and in his article he expresses shame that some of these homeopaths were physicians.

Those interested should read ‘Orac’s take on this; I would only end up repeating points he’s already made. (It’s also not as long as some of his missives!)

The Daily Mail is often known to the science communication community as the Daily Fail for it’s habit of regularly producing articles with spectacularly wrong science.* For example, in that article they quote this straight-out false claim by Dr Lindemann (Marenostrum private natural therapies clinic, Calle Fontanella, Barcelona), but make no effort to check or challenge it –

‘There is not yet one specific medicine widely available for the treatment of Ebola but there are homeopathic remedies that have been proven successful in treating other epidemics such as cholera.’

Simply not true. (Similarly you’ll see a reference to research on “various epidemics including Yellow fever”.)

It is quite clear from the Daily Mail article that the homeopaths were essentially hoping that patients with Ebola in Liberia might be their test dummies. It’s already well understood that homeopathic remedies are placebos. Offering placebos to a serious illness like Ebola is an awful idea.

These homeopaths are now treating patients without Ebola at another clinic in Liberia. If they’re basing their treatment there on homeopathic remedies, that isn’t much better. For any condition that might cause harm and does not self-resolve, placebos are not a sound option. (The problem, of course, is that these practitioners believe that their remedies are more than a placebo.)

There are GPs in New Zealand who offer homeopathy,** as I previously noted a couple of years ago. At that time I wrote,

Similarly if a GP offers homeopathy, then, in my opinion, the GP has lost their ability to think soundly about remedies – something you really don’t want in a medical practitioner.

Essentially, these are doctors who have drifted away from their training to unsound practice and belief in unfounded remedies.

I have little doubt that doctors who offer homeopathy mean well and sincerely believe what they are doing is right, but that is besides the point.

Footnotes

* I lived in the UK for 4+ years as a PhD student. There I came to the conclusion that a key aim of the Daily Mail was to produce articles that people would talk about. Not reporting, but things people would show to their work mates over coffee. My feeling is that once you understand this the Daily Mail makes more sense. (An exception is sports results, which understandably they try report correctly!)

My favourite example of this is a bottom-of-front-page article titled something like ‘Mother gives birth to martian’. It was a lovely piece about a mother’s first child from the hospital bed, as it were. Near the very end she was quoted as saying something like ‘Aww, he’s my little martian’. Ha.

** They’re not hard to find using Google and a modest amount of patience.


Other articles on Code for life:

Monday potpourri: maps, malaria in the USA, cholera in Dunedin and vaccines

Honey’s antibiotic properties found?

Rubella, not a benign disease if experienced during early pregnancy

Gene editing and GMOs in NZ, part one

The bosom serpent


5 Responses to “Homeopath, Ebola and New Zealand – a follow-up”

  • It was a member of Parliament that made the comment about homeopathy and Ebola. Fortunately for us, he is a member of an Opposition party and is not a member, let alone a Minister, of the NZ Government.

  • Well, I’m pleased the WHO has taken the initiative.

    Also picked up the same point as Maggy. The perpetrator here was an opposition member

  • Quite right he is a member not a minister – just an annoying slip while typing.

    I’m well aware of the difference, of course, and that he is in an opposition party. That he’s in the opposition isn’t really relevant here – my point was he is holds a position of responsibility (see my earlier posts) and that’s true whatever party he’s an elected member of, but fair enough about my slip re minister v. member.

    I’ve updated the post, thanks.

  • I did admire your restraint with the ” Offering placebos to a serious illness like Ebola is an awful idea” sentence. I was thinking something else…

  • Brendon –

    I like the understated approach, although admittedly maybe it’d be clearer if I wrote more frankly?

    I’ve had several people comment that they thought my take very restrained, with some suggesting alternatives. (Some involving thoughts about testing of homeopathy for Ebola… I suspect people can extrapolate from that…)