MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

In Germany, homeopathy had been an undisputed favourite for a very long time. Doctors prescribed it, Heilpraktiker recommended it, patients took it and consumers, politicians, journalists, etc. hardly ever questioned it. But recently, this has changed; thanks not least to the INH and the ‘Muensteraner Kreis‘, some Germans are finally objecting to paying for the homeopathic follies of others. Remarkably, this might even have led to a dent in the sizable profits of homeopathy producers: while in 2016 the industry sold about 55 million units of homeopathic preparations, the figure had decreased to ‘just’ ~53 million in 2017.

Enough reason, it seems, for some manufacturers to panic. The largest one is the DHU (Deutsche Homoeopathische Union), and they recently decided to go on the counter attack by investing into a large PR campaign. This article (in German, I’m afraid) explains:

…Unter dem Hashtag #MachAuchDuMit lädt die Initiative Anwenderinnen und Anwender ein, ihre guten Erfahrungen in Sachen Homöopathie zu teilen. “Über 30 Millionen zufriedene Menschen setzen für ihre Gesundheit auf Homöopathie und vertrauen ihr. Mit unserer Initiative wollen wir das Selbstbewusstsein der Menschen stärken, sich für die Homöopathie zu entscheiden oder mindestens für eine freie Wahl einzustehen,” so Peter Braun, Geschäftsführer der DHU…

“Die Therapiefreiheit, die in unserem Slogan mit “Meine Entscheidung!” zum Ausdruck kommt, ist uns das wichtigste in dieser Initiative”, unterstreicht Peter Braun. Und dafür lohnt es sich aktiv zu werden, wie der Schweizer weiß. 2017 haben sich die Menschen in der Schweiz per Volksabstimmung für das Konzept einer integrativen Medizin entschieden. Neben der Schulmedizin können dort auch weitere Therapieverfahren wie Homöopathie oder Naturmedizin zum Einsatz kommen.

In Deutschland will die DHU mit ihrer Initiative Transparenz schaffen und die Homöopathie hinsichtlich Fakten und Erfolge realistisch darstellen. Dafür besteht offensichtlich Bedarf: “Wir als DHU haben in der jüngsten Vergangenheit dutzende spontane Anfragen bekommen, für die Homöopathie Flagge zu zeigen”.

Was die Inhalte der Initiative angeht betont Peter Braun, dass es dabei nie um ein “Entweder-Oder” zwischen Schulmedizin und anderen Therapieverfahren gehen soll: “Die Kombination der jeweils am besten für den Patienten passenden Methode im Sinne von “Hand-in-Hand” ist das Ziel der modernen integrativen Medizin. In keiner Art und Weise ist eine Entscheidung für die Homöopathie eine Entscheidung gegen die Schulmedizin. Beides hat seine Berechtigung und ergänzt sich in vielen Fällen.”

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For those who do not read German, I will pick out a few central themes from the text.

Amongst other things, the DHU proclaim that:

  1. Homeopathy has millions of satisfied customers in Germany.
  2. The campaign aims at defending customers’ choice.
  3. The campaign declares to present the facts realistically.
  4. The decision is “never an ‘either or’ between conventional medicine (Schulmedizin) and other methods”; combining those therapies that suit the patient best is the aim of modern Integrative Medicine.

It is clear to anyone who is capable of critical thinking tha
t these 4 points are fallacious to the extreme. For those to whom it isn’t so clear, let me briefly explain:

  1. The ‘appeal to popularity’ is a classical fallacy.
  2. Nobody wants to curtail patients’ freedom to chose the therapy they want. The discussion is about who should pay for ineffective remedies. Even if homeopathy will, one day, be no longer reimbursable in Germany, consumers will still be able to buy it with their own money.
  3. The campaign has so far not presented the facts about homeopathy (i. e. the remedies contain nothing, homeopathy relies on implausible assumptions, the evidence fails to show that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are effective beyond placebo).
  4. Hahnemann called all homeopaths who combined his remedies with conventional treatments ‘traitors’ (‘Verraeter’) and coined the term ‘Schulmedizin’ to defame mainstream medicine.

The DHU campaign has only started recently, but already it seems to backfire big way. Social media are full with comments pointing out how pathetic it truly is, and many Germans have taken to making fun at it on social media. Personally, I cannot say I blame them – not least because the latest DHU campaign reminds me of the 2012 DHU-sponsored PR campaign. At the time, quackometer reported:

A consortium of pharmaceutical companies in Germany have been paying a journalist €43,000 to run a set of web sites that denigrates an academic who has published research into  their products.

These companies, who make homeopathic sugar pills, were exposed in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in an article, Schmutzige Methoden der sanften Medizin (The Dirty Tricks of Alternative Medicine.)

This story has not appeared in the UK media. And it should. Because it is a scandal that directly involves the UK’s most prominent academic in Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The newspaper accuses the companies of funding the journalist, Claus Fritzsche, to denigrate critics of homeopathy. In particular, the accusation is that Fritzsche wrote about UK academic Professor Edzard Ernst on several web sites and then linked them together in order to raise their Google ranking. Fritzsche continually attacks Ernst of being frivolous, incompetent and partisan…

This story ended tragically; Fritzsche committed suicide.

My impression is that the PR-campaigns of homeopaths in general and the DHU in particular are rather ill-fated. Perhaps they should just forget about PR and do what responsible manufacturers should aim at doing: inform the public according to the best evidence currently available, even if this might make a tiny dent in their huge profits.

5 Responses to The German media campaign to save homeopathy

  • I’ve lost track now of how many times I’ve made this point.
    But once again ( despite the hysterical bleatings of extreme right wingers like the late Logos-Bios) we see the use of language giving away people’s true beliefs.
    Hahnemann’s use of the ‘traitor’ word here- even for people who believed much of his nonsense, but had a slightly different take on it, is similar to the way in which the more extreme ‘Leave’ voters popularised words and phrases like like ‘sabotage’, ‘treason’, ‘traitor’, and ‘enemies of the people’.
    Pretty close to fascism and extreme religion, in other words.

  • Ernst of being frivolous

    Clearly there have been reports in Germany that you have been partaking in the strange English ritual of “Afternoon Tea”.

    We can hope that the campaign stirs up enough ridicule that it actually hurts sales or at least warns away potential customers.

  • And it’s always interesting to me that the pith of many, if not most logical, science based humans is to find and reveal classical fallacies…and then quixotically step back “hoping” that the revealing of logical-impropriety will make everyone quickly and resolutely change their course-of-thinking.
    Many humans glibly act as if ignoring fallacy is the same as ignoring celebrity….it’s just a matter of taste and a personal “choice”. Much like Donald Trumps’ view on telling the truth….or wearing extra long ties.

  • It would be difficult if not impossible to restrict access to homeopathic medicines in Germany because recognition of them as medicine is a result of EU regulations. If I remember correctly, in Germany there are lots of registered products? The situation that exists in the UK where the majority of products are unlicensed medicines and thus supply is legally restricted doesn’t apply so much?

    Do Heilpraktikers have prescribing rights of any kind?

    Withdrawal of reimbursement for homeopathic medicines isn’t a big deal. Why should the State pay for ineffective treatments? Reimbursement by private insurance? It pushes up costs of insurance. Probably by a very small amount. I’ve no idea how competitive the German health insurance market it, whether reimbursement of CAM treatment is popular with consumers.

    The usual arguments about withdrawal of reimbursement, and in the UK blacklisting of medicines that should not be prescribed combined with prescription charge exemptions, is that the economically disadvantaged suffer. I’ve no idea of the demographics of homeopathy use in Germany but suspect that as per UK, most enthusiastic users are affluent.

    I can see that there is a lot of consumer education education going on but is anyone in Germany challenging market claims? The UK experience is that advertising regulation does prohibit the more outlandish claims made but complaints need to be made. Arguably, controlling market claims can have an effect on demand.

    I understand that phytotherapy is quite popular in Germany? Also understand that Germany is the home of Anthroposophic medicine. Strikes me as odd that the focus seems to be on homeopathy and doesn’t include these other nostrums.

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