World Health Organisation (WHO) is meant to implore us to ignore hearsay and folklore, and to follow the scientific evidence. So why is it now suddenly promoting the likes of herbal medicine, homeopathy and acupuncture? In a series of tweets this week, the WHO has launched a campaign to extol the virtues of what it calls ‘traditional medicine’. ‘Traditional medicine has been at the frontiers of medicine and science, laying the foundation of conventional medical texts’, it asserts. It goes on to claim that ‘around 40 per cent of approved pharmaceutical products in use today derive from natural substances’ … it then poses the question: ‘which of these have you used: “acupuncture, Ayurveda, herbal medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, unani medicine?”’
… That some folk medicines might sometimes appear to work – in spite of apparently having no active ingredients – is itself explained by scientific inquiry: there is a proven ‘placebo effect’ that causes people to report an improvement in their symptoms as a result of taking something that they think will make them better.
The WHO should be having nothing to do with promoting any medicine which has not been proven without rigorous trials. So why is it suddenly pushing all kinds of dubious cures? It is hard not to see the latest campaign as part of the fashionable campaign to ‘decolonise’ medicine – which means refusing to see western science as superior to belief systems that have derived from elsewhere in the world. The WHO published a podcast on this subject in May, in which a Canadian medical historian, for example, denounced the concept of ‘tropical’ medicine as a construct by colonial powers to try to promote the false idea that the Third World presented a danger to Europe. …
… the WHO has achieved a massive amount by unashamedly exporting rigorous scientific inquiry to parts of the world which it had yet to reach. It wasn’t folk medicine that eradicated smallpox; it was western medicine, and the WHO should not be apologising for that. Promoting quackery seems an odd – and potentially disastrous – direction for the organisation to take.
Personally, I concur fully – except for the notion that the WHO started its SCAM-promotion only recently. The truth is that it has done so since many years, and since many years we have on this blog discussed this bizarre trend. In my view, it is a relfection not of the science but of the politics that inflence the WHO to a very large extend in the realm of SCAM.