MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

According to Wikipedia, “the Bundesverband der Pharmazeutischen Industrie (BPI) with headquarters in Berlin is an Eingetragener Verein and the German industry association/trade group for the pharmaceutical industry. It represents 240 German pharmaceutical and Biotech companies in with altogether approximately 70,000 employees. BPI has an office in Brussels. The focus of the BPI is on political consulting and public relations on the EU-level.” 

The BPI has recently published a remarkable press-release about homeopathy. As it is in German, I will translate it for you (and append the original text for those who can read German).

HERE WE GO:

Homeopathy is a recognised and proven therapy for patients in Germany [1]. This is demonstrated by a new, BPI-sponsored survey [2]. About half of all questioned had experience with homeopathic remedies [3]. More than 70% of those people are satisfied or very satisfied with their effectiveness and safety [4].

“Homeopathic remedies are important for many patients in Germany”[3], says Dr. Norbert Gerbsch, deputy chair of the BPI. ” If therapists and patients use them correctly, they can support the therapeutic success [5]. Therefore, they should be recognised by conventional medicine as an integrative medicine [5] – that is what patients in Germany clearly want [6].”

Two thirds of the people surveyed think it is important or very important, that therapies like anthroposophical medicine and homeopathy are supported politically next to conventional medicine [7]. More than 70% find it personally important or very important that health insurances pay for selected anthroposophical and homeopathic services [8]. More than 80% said they would favour this. Thus, the majority is for keeping homeopathy amongst the services that can be chosen by the insurances for reimbursement [8].

Dr. Norbert Gerbsch: “The survey proves that very many individuals integrate, use and treasure homeopathy as an additional and usually safe therapy [3]. Those who aim at curtailing therapeutic freedom patronise numerous patients in Germany who can benefit from it [9]. There are numerous diseases for which homeopathy can be used as an integrative therapeutic option [10]. Thus, many conventional physicians employ homeopathic and anthroposophic remedies in parallel to guideline-orientated medicine [3, 11].”

(Homöopathie ist eine anerkannte und bewährte Therapieform für Patienten in Deutschland. Das belegt eine neue, vom BPI beauftragte Forsa-Umfrage. Rund die Hälfte der Befragten hat demnach bereits Erfahrung mit homöopathischen Arzneimitteln. Über 70 Prozent von ihnen sind zufrieden oder sehr zufrieden mit der Wirksamkeit und Verträglichkeit.

„Homöopathische Arzneimittel haben für viele Patienten in Deutschland einen hohen Stellenwert“, sagt Dr. Norbert Gerbsch, stellvertretender BPI-Hauptgeschäftsführer. „Wenn Behandler und Patienten sie richtig und verantwortungsvoll einsetzen, kann sie den Therapieerfolg unterstützen. Sie sollte insofern als wichtige Ergänzung der Schulmedizin im Sinne einer Integrativen Medizin anerkannt werden – das wünschen sich die Patienten in Deutschland eindeutig.“

Fast zwei Drittel der von Forsa Befragten finden es wichtig bis sehr wichtig, dass sich die Politik neben schulmedizinischen Behandlungsmethoden auch aktiv für Heilmethoden wie etwa Homöopathie oder Anthroposophische Medizin einsetzt. Über 70 Prozent finden es persönlich wichtig bis sehr wichtig, dass Krankenkassen ihren Versicherten auch die Kosten für ausgewählte Leistungen aus dem Bereich der homöopathischen Medizin erstatten. Mit über 80 Prozent überdurchschnittlich häufig plädieren Befragte mit Homöopathie-Erfahrung für die Kostenübernahme ausgewählter Leistungen durch die Krankenkassen. Damit stimmt die Mehrheit für den Erhalt der Homöopathie im Rahmen von sogenannten Satzungsleistungen, die von den Krankenkassen individuell festgelegt werden können.

Dr. Norbert Gerbsch: „Die Umfrage belegt, dass sehr viele Menschen Homöopathie als ergänzende und in der Regel nebenwirkungsarme Therapieoption in die Behandlung integrieren, sie nutzen und achten. Wer die Therapiefreiheit und -vielfalt beschneiden will, bevormundet zahlreiche Patienten in Deutschland, die davon profitieren können. Es gibt eine Vielzahl an Erkrankungen, bei denen homöopathische Arzneimittel als integraler Bestandteil von Therapien einsetzbar sind. So nutzen viele Schulmediziner neben dem gesamten Spektrum der leitlinienorientierten Medizin gleichzeitig die integrativen Angebote der Homöopathie und Anthroposophischen Medizin.“)

I DO APPOLOGISE FOR MY POOR TRANSLATION; I HAVE ALWAYS FOUND THAT IT IS VERY HARD TO TRANSLATE SOMETHING THAT SIMPLY DOES NOT MAKE SENSE!

I have rarely seen such an unscientific, irrational, nonsensical and promotional comment from an organisation and an individual that should know better. Mr. Gerbsch studied biotechnology and graduated in 1997 in bioprocess engineering. He headed a scientific team following his promotion to director of a trans-departmental research topic with 13 professorships at the Technical University of Berlin. He later took on responsibilities as commissioner, officer and director of various companies. Since 2006, Mr. Gerbsch works as department manager of biotechnology / research & development at BPI and is responsible for the biotechnology department and innovation & research committee.

Here are just a few short points of criticism referring to the numbers I have added in my translation:

  1. Homeopathy is recognised and proven to be a pure placebo-therapy.
  2. A survey of this nature can at best gauge the current opinion.
  3. Fallacy: appeal to popularity.
  4. Perceived effectiveness/safety is not the same as true effectiveness/safety.
  5. There is no good evidence for this statement.
  6. What patients want might be interesting, but it cannot determine what they need; medicine is not a supermarket!
  7. I suspect this is the result of a leading question.
  8. This is where the BPI discloses the aim of the survey and their comment about it: they want the German health insurances to continue paying for homeopathic and anthroposophical placebos because some of their member companies earn their money selling them. In other words, the BPI actively hinder progress.
  9. No, those who advocate not paying for placebos want to encourage progress in healthcare for the benefit of patients and society.
  10. “Can be used” is an interesting phraseology! It is true, one can use homeopathy – but one cannot use it effectively because it has no effect beyond placebo.
  11. Yes, many physicians are sadly more focussed on their own cash-flow than on the best interest of their patients. Not all that different from the BPI, it seems.

It is beyond me how an organisation like the BPI can produce such shamefully misleading, dangerous and unethical drivel. Not one word about the fact that all international bodies have condemned homeopathy as being a useless and dangerous placebo-therapy! Who ever thought that the BPI was an independent organisation (homeopathy manufacturers belong to its membership) has been proven wrong by the above press-release.

The BPI clearly needs reminding of their duty to inform the public responsibly. I recommend that the leading heads of this organisation urgently attend one course on critical thinking followed by another on medical ethics.

7 Responses to Shamefully misleading drivel about homeopathy by the German BPI

  • Some good examples here of why the late Logos- Bios was wrong to sneer at linguistic competence, English or otherwise.
    As you point out, phrases like ‘perceived effectiveness’ and ‘can be used’ are effectively meaningless in such a context.
    As I argue with some regularity, sausages ‘can be used’ to treat illness.Whether they are effective or not is up for debate.
    As they say, there is no idea so silly that you won’t find somebody somewhere who supports it.
    This blog, and the countless Internet quacksites, are proof of that.

  • Alas, the reprot starts with the truth.
    In brackish Germany, homeopathy is just that: (“recoginsed” and ‘respected’) conventional medicine, not an alternative “other” – in praxi. It is prescribed by conservative doctors; and paid for, since is called affordable, by your lovingly graceful health care provider:
    http://www.spiegel.de/gesundheit/diagnose/homoeopathie-warum-zahlt-die-krankenkasse-a-1137637.html
    (if German is tl;dr: ‘Evidence is useless, we want to be popular – _and_we_know_it’s_useless!’ )
    This is going on for years and – looking at the political personnel available – will continue for some time.
    And, why not? Germans do not just want to castigate themselves, they try to bring the benefits of homeopathy to Africa.
    Trying to cure ebola (no use in aiming low? not just my hyperbole here):
    http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/medizin/angebliche-ebola-therapie-liberia-stoppt-homoeopathen-a-1004553.html

    (Little) Big Pharma in the know, politicians in the know, health care providers in the know and practicing doctors in the know (largely): what’s that if not a conspiracy?

  • I wonder how many German people were in the survey and how representative they were of the general population.

      • My own estimate would have been even higher: at least 80% of Germans believe somehow in the effectiveness of homeopathy. But:

        Forsa is among the so called reputable survey institutes in Germany.
        You can be almost sure that they have called more than 500/1000 but not that much more than 2000 people on their land-lines, selected at fairly random.
        They disclose this for example here:
        http://www.stern.de/politik/wahl/stern-umfrage-so-arbeitet-forsa-3758246.html

        But since this is presumably one of their (standard behavior) call tests you will not glean much from this information about this “study”. Their concepts of randomness and representativeness are akin to cargo-cult and they firmly teach the believe that this is almost enough for a good survey with meaningful results. But from an academic viewpoint they rank fair enough on representativeness of the sample.

        It would be far more interesting to see all the questions asked, especially how they were phrased and ordered, and all of the associated numbers they got from that.

        Usually this Forsa club is highly selective and manipulative in choosing the questions, apparently not caring enough to avoid leading questions and several other effects skewing the results.

        Then it was not an explorative survey but one done specifically for someone who paid for it.
        Usually the results of such surveys suit the customer, and usually it suits them very fine.
        Especially if the direction is as openly clear as in this example.
        Since the actual press release is almost devoid of meaning by not providing these crucial details, and the full data is nowhere to be found: Have you tried to just ask them or Forsa for the data?

  • How nice. Some minor but typical examples for this clubs attitude, deficient methodology and/or lack of unbiased rigor are even to be found on the English WP:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forsa_Institute#Controversies

  • How did an alt-med supporter from Twitter get into that role? Their arguments are of the quality of Baggie and Roslyn.

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