The Newsnight TV programme did an undercover investigation. Ten out of ten homeopaths, including two big companies Nelsons and Helios, told patients that malaria could be prevented by homeopathic pills alone. So much for the idea that homeopathy is harmless.
It is often said that, although homeopathy does no good,at least it does no harm. But that is not true if using homeopathy delays diagnosis of serious disease like cancer. It is not true if homeopaths persuade you not to be vaccinated, and as a consequence you get smallpox, mumps, measles, and spread them in the community. And it is not true if you listen to the ill-informed advice that is given by many homeopaths about how to avoid malaria when you visit countries where it is common.
The Newsnight programme on BBC2 TV (13th July 2006) did a marvelous bit of secret filming.
“Newsnight followed up their research with a hidden camera. A researcher went to Nelsons Pharmacy off Oxford Street in London, which claims to be Britain’s biggest manufacturer of homeopathic remedies – and that was all they recommended for malaria.
Even when the researcher said she planned to go to Malawi – a high risk area – Nelsons only suggested the addition of garlic, oil of citronella and vitamins rather than a trip to the doctors.
The Nelsons adviser told the researcher that the homeopathic compounds would protect her. “They make it so your energy doesn’t have a malaria-shaped hole in it so the malarial mosquitos won’t come along and fill that in.” ”
This last bit of advice means nothing whatsoever. It is sheer gobblydegook. It would just be silly if its effects were not so potentially serious.
On the programme, Melanie Oxley, from the Society of Homeopaths, wriggled uncomfortably when faced with the evidence (and Simon Singh). She protested that members of her organisation do not advise against proper malaria prevention, or against vaccination (and here). Well, they DO. So much for “professional regulation”. You cannot regulate the delusional. and the attempts of organisations like Oxley’s clearly don’t work. Apart from their inability to stop their members giving lethal advice, the regulators themselves are deluded.
Peter Fisher (see here and here), from the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (and here) said “I’m very angry about it because people are going to get malaria – there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won’t find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.” The Queen’s homeopathic physician has the sense to acknowledge that homeopathy does not work for serious conditions, yet persists in his delusion that it works for milder illnesses.
What the homeopaths recommended
Malaria nosodes 30C
The source material is so diluted that not a single molecule is left. The medicines therefore contain no medicine. They are nothing but sugar pills. To sell pills that contain nothing whatsoever and to pretend that they will protect you against malaria strikes me as nothing short of criminal. In the EU in 2000, 15 528 cases of malaria were reported to the World Health Organization in returning travellers. The source material is, incidentally, not stated. One source says it is made from “African swamp water containing impurities, algae and plants as well as mosquito slough, larvae and eggs.” Luckily there is none of it left in the pill you get.
China Off is made from Cinchona bark which should contain quinine (how much is not stated. China Sulph is made from quinine itself (presumably purified, it is not stated). Quinine in large (potentially toxic) doses can cure malaria but is not a recommended treatment. But these preparations contain only minute amounts of quinine that cannot possibly have any effect at all. There is not the slightest reason to think that these pills could protect you against malaria, and to recommend them for that purpose is no more than fraud. The only recommended use for quinine is for treatment iof malaria in pregnant women. The dose is 600 mg, three times a day. because of the inadequate labelling it is impossible to know exactly how much quinine is present in China Sulph 8X,, but it is probably about 100 millionth of the recommended dose.(less than 1 nanogram)
“The fourth case was a 26-year-old man who visited Ghana and Burkina Faso in October and November 1994. He used China D-6 for prophylaxis. This is a homeopathic preparation of the bark from the cinchona tree. Not even trace amounts of quinine were found in the tablets with a very sensitive high-performance liquid chromatographic method.2 Four days after returning from Africa he fell ill with P. falciparum malaria ” (Quotation from Carlsson et al. J Travel Med. 1996 Mar 1;3(1):62. (PMID: 9815426)
In another case of a patient who resorted to homeopathy “for two months she received intensive care for multiple organ system failure due to P falciparum .This case confirms the inefficacy of homoeopathic drugs for malaria prevention and treatment. ”
Natrum Muriaticum is sodium chloride. Just common salt (except that it is so dilute that there is little or no salt there). If you believe this will prevent malaria, you will truly believe anything. Yet it is being recommended and sold.
What the papers say about it
“Malaria risk for tourists who trust alternative practitioners”. A long report by Mark Henderson, in The Times.
“Homoeopathy: voodoo on the NHS” by Jamie White in The Times on the next day (July 15th)
“It is outrageous that the NHS should knowingly promote this quackery. And it is knowing. The NHS Direct website points out that homoeopathy is contrary to everything we know about chemistry and medicine, and that there is no experimental evidence to support its preposterous claims. Yet the NHS still promotes it, because “despite the lack of clinical evidence, homoeopathy remains one of the most popular complementary therapies in the UK”.”
“Homeopaths ‘endangering lives’ by offering malaria remedies” in The Guardian
“Do not rely on homeopathy to protect against malaria, doctors warn”. Excellent health advice (for a change) in the Daily Mail. They quote Dr Evan Harris (Lib Dem) of the all-party parliamentary malaria group, as saying
“This sort of outrageous quackery is unacceptable. Vulnerable people are being duped into handing over cash for useless remedies and are having their health put at risk through grossly inadequate advice. People need to consider homeopathy in the same way as the treat faith-healing and witchcraft – that is not to risk their life or health on it.”
Talk show interview, DC with Tania Shillam on Colourful Radio (“Colourful is a new national digital Talk, cross-cultural radio station. Launched on 30 May 2006, the station’s format is a rich mix of news, current affairs and journalism, agenda-setting coverage, short documentaries, drama, panel discussions, phone-ins and a liberal sprinkling of music”). Listen to it.
Originaly posted on the oldl IMPROBABLE SCIENCE page.