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

According to the European Committee of Homeopathy, the Committee on Health and Consumer Affairs of the Spanish Parliament unanimously adopted a bill in 2009 that recognises homeopathy as a medical act. It urged the government to “take the measures necessary for the exercise of homeopathy exclusively by graduates in medicine and surgery.” On 17 December 2009, the Consejo General de Colegios Oficiales de Médicos (Spanish Medical Council) adopted a resolution that recognised the practice of homeopathy as a medical act.

One decade later, the wind seems to have changed. As reported previously (see here and here), there are now several Spanish initiatives to minimise the damage bogus therapies like homeopathy do to public health. A recent article reported that the Spanish health ministry has been campaigning for a change in the EU law that classifies homeopathic products as medicines. The European Commission seems to be open to the idea.

The criticism of homeopathy in Spain was triggered at least in part by reports of people refusing or abandoning regular treatment in favour of homeopathic products to treat serious diseases like cancer. One of them was Rosa Morillo, who died of breast cancer in 2017, after she refused chemotherapy and sought homeopathic treatments instead, according to El País.

“The problem is the damage that can be done by opting for an alternative therapy that has not demonstrated scientific evidence,” Carcedo, the Sanish health minister, said. She raised the issue again in bilateral talks at the most recent EU health ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg in June. “What we can do is keep up the pressure, because the change in the directive must be done at a European level,” she told El País.

The 2001 EU directive on the code for human medicines states that “homeopathic medicinal products” are eligible for a simplified registration procedure if they are administered orally or externally, have no specific therapeutic indication on their packaging; and are sufficiently diluted to guarantee their safety. Homeopathic products with a specific therapeutic indication, meanwhile, have to get a marketing authorization following the same rules as regular medicines, including providing proof of efficacy.

The envisaged change in EU law would be most welcome, in my view. It would:

  • abolish the current double standards,
  • end the misleading messages to consumers,
  • align the law with the current best evidence,
  • abolish the unfair commercial advantage of homeopathy producers,
  • align the law with ethical imperatives,
  • make a positive contribution to public health,
  • increase trust in EU drug regulation.

But we should not be over-optimistic either. The European homeopathy lobby is powerful and is fighting with its back to the wall.

And what can we do to help? Perhaps writing to your MEP in support of the Spanish initiative might be a good idea?

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