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Homeopathy does not cure diseases, warns WHO

Friday, August 21, 2009 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD

In response to a recent letter sent on behalf of the Voice of Young Science Network (of which I am a member), the World Health Organization has stated that it does not support the use of homeopathy for treating HIV, TB, malaria, influenza and infant diarrhea.

In that original letter, young researchers and physicians representing the Voice of Young Science Network, outlined the following:

- Medics working with the most rural and impoverished people of the world already struggle to deliver the medical help that is needed. The promotion of homeopathy for serious diseases puts lives at risk.

- Lists some of the examples of recent and planned developments of homeopathic clinics offering treatment for these five conditions.

- Asks the WHO to make clear that homeopathy cannot prevent or treat these five conditions.

The responses from numerous WHO directors have strongly supported these concerns.

Here are a few examples:

Dr Mario Raviglione, Director, Stop TB Department, WHO: “Our evidence-based WHO TB treatment/management guidelines, as well as the International Standards of Tuberculosis Care (ISTC) do not recommend use of homeopathy.”

Dr Mukund Uplekar, TB Strategy and Health Systems, WHO: “WHO’s evidence-based guidelines on treatment of tuberculosis...have no place for homeopathic medicines.”

Joe Martines, on behalf of Dr Elizabeth Mason, Director, Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development, WHO: “We have found no evidence to date that homeopathy would bring any benefit to the treatment of diarrhoea in children...Homeopathy does not focus on the treatment and prevention of dehydration - in total contradiction with the scientific basis and our recommendations for the management of diarrhoea.”

As was the hope shared by all in the network, this exercise has created quite the media buzz today being featured on BBC news, among other media outlets worldwide.

Despite the clear condemnation by the most powerful health organization in the world, homeopaths are trying their best to weather the storm.

From the BBC article:
Paula Ross, chief executive of the Society of Homeopaths, states that "this is just another poorly wrapped attempt to discredit homeopathy…”

Touché, Paula! I couldn’t have responded better myself to accusations of being a medical fraud by the World Health Organization. Well played!

For those readers not familiar with the basic tenets of homeopathy, you can click here to download a nice 2-page PDF summary provided by Sense About Science.

In essence, its basic (not to mention completely irrational) principles are the following:

(1) Like cures like: First, homeopaths choose a substance that causes the same symptoms as the disease they want to treat. For example, the runny nose and watery eyes of a cold can be recreated by inhaling onion fumes, so onion juice can form the basis of a homeopathic preparation.

(2) The smaller the dose the more potent the cure: The chosen substance is repeatedly diluted and shaken (also called succussed). This is supposed to reduce the substance’s potential to harm, and also make it more effective.

And what does the scientific literature suggest about Homeopathy’s efficacy to treat or cure certain conditions?

A large scale meta-analysis published in Lancet in 2005 by Shang and colleagues, compared the effects of 110 trials of homeopathic treatments with another 110 studies of traditional medicine matched for disorder treated and the outcome measured.

In the end, after controlling for the poor methodologies of many of the homeopathic studies, the authors concluded the following:

“…there was weak evidence for a specific effect of homoeopathic remedies, but strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions. This finding is compatible with the notion that the clinical effects of homoeopathy are placebo effects.”

So there you have it, homeopathy’s basic principles are illogical, it is as effective as a placebo, and it is condemned by the World Health Organization for the treatment of many conditions.

If you are still unconvinced as to the flaws of homeopathic practice, then maybe this humorous and yet largely accurate video below may help (email subscribers must log onto Obesity Panacea to view teh video). (Credit for video to Yoni Freedhoff of Weighty Matters Blog ).

As an aside, this whole campaign against homeopathy in the treatment of serious diseases was started by the Sense About Science charity, an independent charitable trust promoting good science and evidence in public debates. It consists of young reserachers and physicians, like us, who can't stand for health myths and thus are on a mission to discredit anything which is not based on a strong evidence base. Check out their website to learn about some of their other pursuits.


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Shang, A., Huwiler-Müntener, K., Nartey, L., Jüni, P., Dörig, S., Sterne, J., Pewsner, D., & Egger, M. (2005). Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy The Lancet, 366 (9487), 726-732 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(05)67177-2

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5 Response to "Homeopathy does not cure diseases, warns WHO"

  1. Matt Said,

    Hilarious video! What disease sufferers really need is a televangelist. I see them cure people on TV every week...and even though it's been a few years since I've been involved in research, I'm pretty sure that's one of the stronger levels of evidence. But seriously, I'm glad to see the WHO take a stand against non-evidence guided practice. Health care practitioners have a responsibility to use treatments that are proven to be the most effective available and it is imperative that governing bodies like WHO stand behind evidence-guided medicine.

    Posted on August 23, 2009 at 9:54 PM

  2. justjuliebean Said,

    Oddly enough, I know people who condemn vaccinations for exactly the same reason.

    Posted on August 24, 2009 at 10:41 AM

  3. Peter Janiszewski, PhD (Cand.), MSc Said,


    Yes, I know some think this about vaccines, but the thinking is a tad backwards.

    From the Sense About Science handout on homeopathy:

    "Some homeopaths
    say it works like a vaccine. However, this is not true since
    vaccines work by priming the immune system to recognise a
    particular disease with a safe version of the pathogen (an altered
    virus, for example). The principle of like cures like holds that only
    the symptoms of the disease and treatment need match, no
    matter what condition or pathogen lies behind them. This is not a
    theory that fits with how the body works and is problematic; e.g.,
    a headache could be a symptom of stress or a brain tumour, but
    the required treatments are very different."

    Couldn't have articulated it better myself:)


    Posted on August 24, 2009 at 7:28 PM

  4. Inger Said,

    My son was cured of years of allergies that were starting to turn into asthma after one visit with a homeopathic M.D., where he got a megadose and I followed up with daily homeopathic doses for 2-3 months. Nothing had worked prior to this. Years later he is still free of allergies. A few years ago my husband had had a horrible cough for months. Regular MDs, antiobiotics, nothing worked. Five days after he started our homeopathic MD's regimen, he had no more cough. My husband is a serious skeptic, so the placebo effect was not the issue. By the way, newer studies have shown that the placebo effect is way overrated and, if that is what is doing the healing, it doesn't hold up. In the 1980s, I read an article about Lancet studying homeopathics and coming to the conclusion that, "Yes, it works, but because it defies the laws of science, we will have to dismiss our findings"! Good luck just relying on conventional medicine's toxic substances.

    Posted on September 4, 2009 at 3:49 PM

  5. Travis Saunders, MSc Said,

    Hi Inger,

    I'm curious about the new studies showing that the placebo effect is overrated - I read an interesting article in Wired magazine last week reporting that the placebo effect has gotten far stronger in recent years, for reasons which are yet unexplained.

    The study can be read here:

    Posted on September 7, 2009 at 8:40 PM


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