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

doctors

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Guest post by Ken McLeod

‘Ayurvedic Medicine,’ or Ayurveda, is an alternative medicine system which originated in India as long as 5,000 years ago, according to its proponents.  Science-based medicine refers to it  as pseudoscientific and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) characterises  it as quackery. [1] Ayurvedic practitioners claim that its popularity through the ages vindicates it as safe and effective.

That last bit is of course the appeal to antiquity, or the appeal to tradition (also known as argumentum ad antiquitatem. [2] This proposes that if something was supported by people for a long time it must be valid.   That is bunkum; many ancient ideas have long since been discredited; the Earth is not flat, no matter for how long people thought it was.

Nevertheless, ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’ has many practitioners and supporters in the supposedly rational West, including Bondi Junction here in Australia.  Despite the many warnings about it, [3] people still go to practitioners, and occasionally they are injured.

One such injury and the consequent complaint to the New South Wales regulator, the Health Care Complaints Commission, (HCCC), has resulted in a Public Warning dated 18 September concerning levels of heavy metals in Ayurvedic Medication.  [4]

The HCCC said:

‘The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission is concerned about a complaint received regarding the prescription of “Manasamithra Vatika,” (Manasamitram Pills) an Ayurvedic medication.

‘The complaint related to prescription of this medication to a child for treatment of autism.

‘This medication was found to contain concerning levels of lead and other heavy metals.’

That’s all very bland, no headlines there.  But then it got into:

“The Commission strongly urges those individuals seeking alternative therapies to be vigilant in their research prior to proceeding with any natural therapy medications or medicines and to discuss any such proposed therapies with their treating registered health practitioner.”

Not so bland there; that’s very comprehensive; ‘any natural therapy medications or medicines’ and ‘discuss any such proposed therapies with their treating registered health practitioner.” ‘Note the HCCC’s emphasis on “registered.”  That rules out Ayurvedic Medicine practitioners, homeopaths, and other assorted cranks; go to a real doctor.

Surely that is headline material; a regulator responsible for promoting the health of citizens warns them to go to real doctors before going to these quacks.

Then it gets better, (or worse if you are an Ayurvedic Medicine practitioner).  At the same time the HCCC issued an Interim Prohibition Order against Mr Rama Prasad (“Ayurveda Doctor Rama Prasad.”) [5] The HCCC’s Order says:

‘The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (“the Commission”) is currently investigating Mr Rama Prasad in relation to his prescribing of the Ayurvedic Medication “Manasamithra Vatika” (Manasamitram Pills) to both children and adults and about his claims that his treatments can reverse several aspects of autism in children.

‘The Ayurvedic Medication “Manasmithra Vatika” (Manasamitram Pills) was found to contain elevated levels of lead and other heavy metals.

‘One case with mildly elevated blood level was notified to the South Eastern Sydney Public Health Unit after consuming this product.

‘Clients residing in NSW who are considered to have been placed at possible risk have now been contacted by NSW Health public health personnel.

‘The Commission has issued an interim prohibition order in relation to Mr Rama Prasad, under section 41AA of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 (‘The Act’). Mr Prasad is currently prohibited from providing any health services, either in paid employment or voluntarily, to any member of the public.

‘This interim prohibition order will remain in force for a period of eight weeks and may be renewed where appropriate in order to protect the health or safety of the public.’

That should send chills down the spine of any Ayurvedic Medicine practitioner.  A complete Prohibition Order ordering Prasad not to engage in providing any health service as defined in the Act  [6] for eight weeks, which may be renewed or even made permanent, depending on what the investigation finds.  The Act includes a comprehensive list of activities that comprise a ‘health service’:

‘health service includes the following services, whether provided as public or private services:

  • (a)  medical, hospital, nursing and midwifery services,
  • (b)  dental services,
  • (c)  mental health services,
  • (d)  pharmaceutical services,
  • (e)  ambulance services,
  • (f)  community health services,
  • (g)  health education services,
  • (h)  welfare services necessary to implement any services referred to in paragraphs (a)–(g),
  • (i)  services provided in connection with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practices and medical radiation practices,
  • (j)  Chinese medicine, chiropractic, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathy, physiotherapy, podiatry and psychology services,
  • (j1)  optical dispensing, dietitian, massage therapy, naturopathy, acupuncture, speech therapy, audiology and audiometry services,
  • (k)  services provided in other alternative health care fields,
  • (k1)  forensic pathology services,’

Note the inclusion of ‘health education.’  This is where so many cranks fall foul of the law;  setting yourself up as a health educator makes you subject to the Act.   Even if you claim to be a master chef, homeopath or Ayurvedic Medicine Practitioner, you are not exempt.

It’s early days yet in this particular saga, and there are many questions to be answered, for example:

  • – How did this “medicine” get past Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, (Australia’s equivalent to the US FDA)?
  • – Did the TGA list or register it?
  • – If not why not? If it was who is responsible?
  • – Was this detected only after a child was so sickened that they were taken to hospital?
  • – Why is the practitioner concerned still advertising his Ayurvedic medicine courses? [7]  Is this a breach of his Prohibition Order which prohibits ‘health education services’?’

So stay tuned for updates as this case progresses.  In the meantime note that an Australian Health regulator is advising the public to seek advice from real doctors before going to alternative therapists, including ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’ practitioners.  That is a real headline.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_tradition

[3] Such as from the Victoria Dept of Health at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/ayurveda

[4] https://www.hccc.nsw.gov.au/decisions-orders/public-statements-and-warnings/public-warning-under-s94a-of-the-health-care-complaints-act-concerning-levels-of-heavy-metals-in-ayurvedic-medication

[5] https://www.hccc.nsw.gov.au/decisions-orders/media-releases/2020/mr-rama-prasad-ayurveda-doctor-rama-prasad-interim-prohibition-order

[6] Health Care Complaints Act 1993 https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-1993-105

[7] https://www.enlightenedevents.com.au/events/certificate-in-clinical-ayurveda-dr-rama-prasad

Steiner with his wife (right) and Ita Wegman, his lover (left).

Anthroposophic medicine was founded by Steiner and Ita Wegman in the early 20th century. Currently, it is being promoted as an extension of conventional medicine. Proponents claim that “its unique understanding of the interplay among physiological, soul and spiritual processes in healing and illness serves to bridge allopathy with naturopathy, homeopathy, functional/nutritional medicine and other healing systems.” Its value has repeatedly been questioned, and clinical research in this area is often less than rigorous.

Anthroposophic education was developed in the Waldorf school that was founded by Steiner in 1919 to serve the children of employees of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. Pupils of Waldorf or Steiner schools, as they are also frequently called, are encouraged to develop independent thinking and creativity, social responsibility, respect, and compassion.

Waldorf schools implicitly infuse spiritual and mystic concepts into their curriculum. Like some other alternative healthcare practitioners – for instance, doctors promoting integrative medicine, chiropractors, homeopaths and naturopaths – some doctors of anthroposophic medicine take a stance against childhood immunizations. In a 2011 paper, I summarised the evidence which showed that in the UK, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, Waldorf schools have been at the centre of measles outbreaks due to their stance regarding immunisations.

More recently, a study evaluated trends in rates of personal belief exemptions (PBEs) to immunization requirements for private kindergartens in California that practice alternative educational methods. The investigators used California Department of Public Health data on kindergarten PBE rates from 2000 to 2014 to compare annual average increases in PBE rates between schools.

Alternative schools had an average PBE rate of 8.7%, compared with 2.1% among public schools. Waldorf schools had the highest average PBE rate of 45.1%, which was 19 times higher than in public schools (incidence rate ratio = 19.1; 95% confidence interval = 16.4, 22.2). Montessori and holistic schools had the highest average annual increases in PBE rates, slightly higher than Waldorf schools (Montessori: 8.8%; holistic: 7.1%; Waldorf: 3.6%).

The authors concluded that Waldorf schools had exceptionally high average PBE rates, and Montessori and holistic schools had higher annual increases in PBE rates. Children in these schools may be at higher risk for spreading vaccine-preventable diseases if trends are not reversed.

As the world is hoping for the arrival of an effective vaccine against the corona virus, these figures should concern us.

Already in 2017, the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) had issued a statement saying that “The principles of homeopathy contradict known chemical, physical and biological laws and persuasive scientific trials proving its effectiveness are not available.”Now Russia’s ‘Commission against Pseudoscience’ called homeopathy a “pseudoscience” whose effectiveness hasn’t been proven, which is harmful to patients because they spend money and time on ineffective treatments.Since 1995, qualified doctors who are also trained in homeopathy have been licensed to practice homeopathic medicine in Russian hospitals and clinics, and their practice has been regulated. However, the Commission has now recommended that Russia’s Ministry of Health forbid doctors from prescribing homeopathic medicine and ban the homeopathic medicines themselves from state medical institutions. “Homeopathy is not harmless: patients spend a lot of money on drugs that don’t work and neglect means of treatment with proven effectiveness. This can lead to adverse outcomes, including death of the patient,” the Commission wrote.

In response to the recommendation, the health ministry announced the formation of a working group of medical experts to suggest proposals for further regulation of homeopathy. A spokesman said that medicines whose efficiency is not clinically proven should not be procured using public funds, nor prescribed to treat the sick.

Russia has proved a profitable market for foreign suppliers of homeopathic medicine such as French company Boiron, which opened its Russian subsidiary in 2005. “Today, the Russian market is our company’s fourth largest in terms of turnover, after France, the US and Italy. Russia has always been interesting for Boiron because of the large population, and a relatively high incidence of illness and lower level of medicine consumption in comparison with Europe,” general director of Boiron in Russia Irina Nikulina said.

According to figures from Russian pharmaceutical market analysts DSM Group, Boiron sold 35 percent of all the homeopathic medicine sold in Russia last year, or 2.88 billion rubles (USD 49.5 million) worth of medicine. Boiron produces Russia’s most popular homeopathic medicine, called Oscillococcinum, which is marketed to relieve flu symptoms and accounted for 18.98 percent of all homeopathic medicines sold in 2016.

__________________________

The many international initiatives aimed at minimising the harm done by homeopathy are slowly beginning to yield results. It took many years for politicians to realise that the supposedly harmless homeopathy is, in fact, not harmless at all. Homeopathy causes harm by:

  1. wasting people’s money,
  2. distracting patients from effective treatments,
  3. the ill-conceived advice homeopaths give to patients,
  4. making a mockery of evidence-based medicine,
  5. violating the principles of medical ethics,
  6. undermining rational thinking in society.

One therefore has to applaud Russia’s ‘Commission against Pseudoscience’, hope that the working group does produce robust advice, and support similar initiatives in other countries.

 

 

Michael Dixon LVOOBEMAFRCGP has been a regular feature of this blog (and elsewhere). He used to be a friend and colleague until … well, that’s a long story. Recently, I came across his (rather impressive) Wikipedia page. To my surprise, it mentions that Dixon

See the source image“has been criticised by professor of complementary medicine and alternative medicine campaigner Edzard Ernst for advocating the use of complementary medicine. Ernst said that the stance of the NHS Alliance on complementary medicine was “misleading to the degree of being irresponsible.”[31] Ernst had previously been sympathetic to building a bridge between complementary and mainstream medicine, co-writing an article with Michael Dixon in 1997 on the benefits of such an approach.[32] Ernst and Dixon write “missed diagnoses by complementary therapists giving patients long term treatments are often cited but in the experience of one of the authors (MD) are extremely rare. It can also cut both ways. A patient was recently referred back to her general practitioner by an osteopath, who was questioning, as it turned out quite correctly, whether her pain was caused by metastates. Good communication between general practitioner and complementary therapist can reduce conflicts and contradictions, which otherwise have the potential to put orthodox medicine and complementary therapy in an either/or situation.”

REFERENCES

31) February 2009, 24. “Academics and NHS Alliance clash over complementary medicine”. Pulse Today.

32) ^ Update – the journal of continuing education for General Practitioners, 7th May 1997

I have little recollection of the paper that I seem to have published with my then friend Michael, and it is not listed in Medline, nor can I find it in my (usually well-kept) files; the journal ‘Update’ does not exist anymore and was obviously not a journal good enough for keeping a copy. But I do not doubt that Wiki is correct.

In fact, it is true that, in 1997, I was still hopeful that bridges could be built between conventional medicine and so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). But I had always insisted that they must be bridges built on solid ground and with robust materials.

Put simply, my strategy was to test SCAM as rigorously as I could and to review the totality of the evidence for and against it. Subsequently, one could consider introducing those SCAMs into routine care that had passed the tests of science.

Dixon’s strategy differed significantly from mine. He had no real interest in science and wanted to use SCAM regardless of the evidence. Since the publication of our paper in 1997, he has pursued this aim tirelessly. On this blog, we find several examples of his activity.

And what happened to the bridges?

I’m glad you ask!

As it turns out, very few SCAMs have so far passed the test of science and hardly any SCAM has been demonstrated to generate more good than harm. The material to build bridges is therefore quite scarce, hardly enough for solid constructions. Dixon does still not seem to be worried about this indisputable fact. He thinks that INTEGRATED MEDICINE is sound enough for providing a way to the future. I disagree and still think it is ‘misleading to the degree of being irresponsible’.

Who is right?

Dixon or Ernst?

Opinions about this differ hugely.

Time will tell, I suppose.

These are exceptional times and they need exceptional measures. Therefore, I am yet again deviating from my policy of focussing exclusively on SCAM and welcome my French colleague Dr Lehmann posting a series of articles on the hydroxychloroquine story.

Guest post by Christian Lehmann

 

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

This pandemic diary was begun just before lock down, already four weeks ago, and yet I have scarcely touched on the elephant in the room. Our personal elephant is called Didier Raoult. White-haired with age, venerable in appearance, he has been number one in the press, constantly in capitals in online news headlines, waking hopes, feeding passions. And arousing the interest of a plethora of epidemiologists of renown, from Valerie Boyer to Donald Trump, by way of Alain Soral and Alexandre Benalla.

Everything begins on 25 February 2020, when the microbiology professor from Marseille posts his famous video “Coronavirus, game over”, since more modestly re-baptised “Coronavirus, towards a way out of the crisis?”.

Standing in front of a student audience out of camera, Didier Raoult reveals “a last-minute scoop, a very important piece of news”: the Chinese, whom he regularly advises, rather than seeking a vaccine or new products have been “repositioning”, trying old molecules, “known, old, without toxicity,” among them chloroquine, which has shown itself to be effective in a daily dose of 500 mg per day “with a spectacular improvement and it is recommended for all clinically positive cases of coronavirus. This is excellent news, it is probably the easiest respiratory infection of all to treat” Here, the whole roomful laughs, with pleasure, with relief, and I remember sharing these sentiments, briefly, but completely. Because this was 26th of February, because like others I felt confusedly that the reassurances with which Agnes Buzyn ( then the French Health Minister) was inundating us were built on sand, and that the virus would only laugh at little notices in airports.

I knew Didier Raoult only by name, as a columnist in Point, I had read some of his articles and I had felt simultaneously soothed by his smooth eloquence, attracted by some of his iconoclastic stances, but also sometimes rather irritated by his Mandarin-style fake cool posturing. At the end of February, I immediately reposted the video in the medical forums, on the walls of worried friends, explaining that, if the suggestions of Didier Raoult were confirmed, we would have escaped with a scare which would soon be dispelled by this “magic bullet”, this “game changer”.

Then between two consultations in my GP’s office, later that afternoon, I watched that video “Game Over” again. How could such an important piece of news have reached me by means of a Youtube video? Where were the overseas publications, the much vaunted Chinese study, the releases from AgenceFrancePresse, Reuters, the first articles from the New York Times and the Guardian, proclaiming from the rooftops that the pandemic we had so much feared was in fact only a technical hitch, easily controllable by a widely available drug. It was at that second viewing that I balked. As a GP who had worked in cardiac resuscitation some years ago, I was brought up short by hearing Didier Raoult talking up a medicine “well known, and devoid of any toxicity”. If chloroquine or Nivaquine, to give it its commercial name, is celebrated for the prevention of malaria, it is also a medicine known for its frightening toxicity as soon as the dose is exceeded, with the risk of irreversible visual damage and extremely serious problems with cardiac rhythm which can prove fatal. To say that chloroquine is without toxicity problems is in fact an error, all the more so because the dose suggested by “the Chinese”, without an iota of proof at this stage, is five times larger than the customary dose, 500 mg instead of 100 mg.

Deeply uneasy, I’m in discussion with doctor friends on Twitter when the video makes its appearance there. We know nothing at this point about Didier Raoult’s past, or about his Marseille Institute. Neither the enmity felt towards him by the Parisian intelligentsia represented by Agnes Buzyn and her husband, nor the fact that his institute has just lost its INSERM and CNRS accreditations, nor the stance adopted by him a month earlier explaining that coronavirus would never escape from China and that it was ridiculous to get worked up about it because “the world has gone mad, something or other happens and three Chinese die and that brings about a world-scale alert”.

Some of us, practitioners and first responders, knew well the toxicity of chloroquine, that it was to be handled with care, and that was about all we said on Twitter. It was already too much. The next day in a 20 minute interview Didier Raoult brushed away his detractors. “Malicious gossip, I don’t give a damn about it. When a medication has been shown to work on 100 people while all the world is busy having a nervous breakdown, and there’s some idiots who say there’s no certainty that it works, I’m not interested! It would honestly be medical misconduct not to use chloroquine to treat Chinese coronavirus”. And he drives the point home. “People who have lived in Africa like me took chloroquine every day. Everybody who went to hot countries took it throughout their time there, and for two months after they came home. Billions of people have taken this medication. And it costs nothing: ten centimes per pill. It is a medication which is extremely reliable and it’s the cheapest imaginable. So this is super amazing news. Everybody who learns about these benefits should fall upon it.” This is no longer a mistake, this is grave medical misconduct. Nobody who knows about therapeutics would use such words so lightly.

Cardiologists, resuscitation specialists, emergency doctors, GPs, public-health specialists, we are all alarmed. Our first warnings are vehement and rational, reaffirming the toxicity of chloroquine in cardiology, and the majority of us insisting on the senseless and significant risk which Didier Raoult is running. Because it is familiar, prescribed for long stays in Africa in packages of 100 tablets, chloroquine is lying around in many medicine cabinets. To declare as a fact that we should “fall upon it” in this agonising pandemic context is to encourage unrestrained self medication, and to endanger life. Incoherent, dangerous, this announcement disturbs us deeply. Incredulous, not for a moment do we imagine just what Didier Raoult will unleash, nor that the nightmare had already begun.

 

Yes, you read this correctly: 2/3 of the German population revealed themselves to be stupid – at least this is what a survey sponsored by the German Association of Homeopathic Doctors seems to imply.

Hard to believe?

Well, read the press-release for yourself [and if you are not reading German, let me fill you in below]:

Fast zwei Drittel der Bevölkerung in Deutschland würde den Einsatz homöopathischer Arzneimittel zur Behandlung von Covid-19-Erkrankungen befürworten.

Das ist eines von mehreren Ergebnissen einer repräsentativen Umfrage des Instituts für Politik- und Sozialforschung forsa, durchgeführt im Auftrag des Deutschen Zentralvereins homöopathischer Ärzte.

Angst vor Covid-19. Interesse an homöopathischen Methoden.

Befragt wurden insgesamt 1009 Bundesbürger, unter anderem zum Grad ihrer Besorgnis vor einer Erkrankung an Covid-19, ihrem Interesse an Vorsorgemaßnahmen gegen eine Corona-Infektion zusätzlich zu besonderer Hygiene, ihrer Einstellung zu einer Behandlung von Covid-19 mit homöopathischen Arzneimitteln, sowie zur Befürwortung oder Ablehnung staatlicher finanzieller Förderung von Forschungsprojekten zu homöopathischen Vorsorge- und Behandlungsmethoden von Covid-19-Erkrankungen.

61% ziehen homöopathische Behandlung mindestens ernsthaft in Betracht

Mehr als die Hälfte aller Befragten hat bereits Erfahrung mit einer homöopathischen Behandlung bei früheren Erkrankungen gemacht. Noch mehr, nämlich fast zwei Drittel aller Befragten, würden unter der Voraussetzung, dass es in der Vergangenheit schon positive Erfahrungen mit diesem Mittel gab, im Fall einer Erkrankung an Covid-19 eine homöopathische Behandlung für sich selbst oder ihnen nahestehenden Personen auf jeden Fall (26 %) oder eher (34 %) befürworten

Homöopathie soll auch Gelder für Forschungsprojekte erhalten

Auch hinsichtlich der weiteren Erforschung von Methoden zur Vorbeugung gegen eine Infektion mit dem Corona-Virus und der Behandlung von Covid-19 fänden es viele Bürger (42 %) in Deutschland gut oder sehr gut- in der Altersgruppe über 45 Jahren sogar rund oder mehr als die Hälfte – dass staatliche Gelder nicht nur in Forschungsprojekte der konventionellen Medizin gesteckt werden, sondern dass auch Projekte der homöopathischen Medizin gezielt gefördert werden.

Here is the gist of the press-release for non-German speakers:

The German Association of Homeopathic Doctors paid an otherwise respectable agency to run a poll for them; not just any poll, but one that is robust enough to be representative of the entire German population (sample size of 1009!). The questions asked were about homeopathy in the present health crisis. The results show that:

  • 61% would seriously consider using homeopathy,
  • more than 50% have had positive experience with homeopathy during previous episodes of illness,
  • more than 2/3 would consider homeopathy for a corona-virus infection, provided that there has been positive experience with this approach in the past,
  • 42% of Germans would find it good or very good, if public funds would also be dedicated to research in homeopathy.

What does that tell us?

It tells us that the Germans are not that stupid after all: they would only consider homeopathy for a corona-virus infection, if there has been positive experience with this approach in the past. As such positive evidence is absent, they would not consider homeopathy!

The poll also tells us that surveys can be spun to generate the most idiotic findings provided the questions that are being asked are phrased in a sufficiently leading way. It moreover tells us that the German Association of Homeopathic Doctors seem to believe that Germans are stupid and do not realise that this survey is a despicable stunt for boosting their failing business. Finally, it tells us that the German Association of Homeopathic Doctors are behaving grossly unethical to promote homeopathy during this pandemic. There is not a jot of evidence that homeopathy might be effective and a lot of evidence to show that promoting useless treatments is dangerous.

I know Dr Thompson personally since many years. She is one of the UK’s leading homeopaths and we rarely agreed on anything. Yet I had always considered her to be on the responsible side of the homeopathic spectrum. I am sorry to say that I just changed my mind.

The reason is this video and letter.

In the video, she explains that she has been infected with the coronavirus, has self-treated the condition with homeopathy and promptly recovered. In the letter to all patients, she states the following:

… In terms of Homeopathic Medicines, the medicine Anas Barb 200c, two tablets twice weekly, can be used during this time, increasing to two tablets once a day if you do have exposure to the virus or have symptoms and have to self-isolate.

Other Homeopathic Medicines that are being recommended include:

  • Arsenicum Album 30c: three times daily if anxiety is strong
  • Gelsemium 30c: twice daily if weakness and headache predominate
  • Bryonia 30c: two-three times a day for dry cough particularly if movement aggravates the cough.

If cough becomes more problematic you can use Antimonium Tartaricum 30c three times daily.

If fevers are a problem and particularly if they are periodic (coming at certain times of the day) use China officinalis 30c three times daily…

I find this amazing and alarming. There is, of course, not a jot of evidence that any homeopathic treatment will effectively treat or prevent any viral infection, and certainly no evidence that it cures coronavirus infections. To claim or imply otherwise displays a staggering ineptitude and lack of professionalism. To extrapolate from a personal experience to a quasi recommendation for patients is, in my view, ridiculously unscientific and overtly unethical. As a doctor Thompson should be able to differentiate between experience and evidence and has the professional duty to go by the latter.

I am truly glad to hear that Dr Thompson has had a mild course of the disease and recovered swiftly. But we know that all too often this is not the case and that patients can become seriously ill and some even die of the coronavirus. To give the impression that homeopathy can keep them safe is clearly both incorrect and irresponsible.

As THE TIMES stated yesterday, homeopaths are ‘risking lives with bogus coronavirus treatments’.

It’s high time to stop them.

When I first saw this press-release, I thought it was a hoax. After all, it came from a most dubious homeopathic source. Then I read it again and was no longer sure.

What do you think?

Here it is in full:

Santa Clara, Cuba, April 3,2020 (Prensa Latina) The homeopathic medicine Prevengho-VIR began to be administered as a measure to confront the Covid-19 in this province of central Cuba.

Dr. Mirtha Rosa Hernandez, head of the Department of the Elderly in Villa Clara, reported that the supply of the preparation began in the Grandparents’ Homes and Elderly Homes of the territory, which has 184,000 people over 60 years old, 23.9 percent of the local universe. The medicine is administered by doctors and nurses of the basic working group where the Grandparents’ Homes and Nursing Homes are located in the 13 municipalities of this province.

This homeopathic medicine comes in a 10-milliliter bottle, and the daily dosage is 5 drops, thrice a day; while on the tenth day a reactivation of the initial dose is performed. It is aimed at preventing the respiratory diseases in this risk group, in addition to other medical conditions, such as dengue.

In the upcoming days it will be extended to the Maternal Homes. It is administered by the doctors and the nurses from the basic work group of the senior homes.

She said, that besides avoiding the new coronavirus the formula is also aimed at preventing respiratory diseases in this risk group, in addition to others such as dengue fever.

This medicine can also be administered to children under 10 years old, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and patients with liver disorders.

Combination Medicine
Anas berberiae 200
Baptisia tinctora 200
Bascilinum 30
Pyrogenum 200
Eupetorium perf 200
Influezinum 200
Arsenicum Album 200

As I said, I was not sure whether this was for real. Is it possible that even officials are so stupid, brainwashed or gullible to go for homeopathy in such a serious situation?

In an attempt to find out, I did a little search and quickly found that the story has been reported by multiple media. This, for instance, is what the Miami Herald reported:

As scientists around the world speed up clinical trials to find a cure or vaccine for the coronavirus, the Cuban government will begin distributing a homeopathic remedy to the elderly and other vulnerable people to “prevent” the spread of the disease, a top health official said.

Dr. Francisco Durán, national director of Epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health, said in a press conference on Sunday that “sublingual drops” of the compound PrevengHo-Vir “prevent different diseases such as influenza, the common cold, dengue, and emerging viral infections such as this one.”

On Monday, Durán tried to correct his statements and said that the product “does not prevent contagion” but rather “increases resistance, the body’s defenses against a certain virus.”

Several state media outlets reported that PrevengHo-Vir is already being used in various Cuban provinces to treat the elderly and other groups vulnerable to the coronavirus. There is no internet record of PrevengHo-Vir, other than press reports about the announcement of its distribution in Cuba.

So, it’s not a hoax!

In this case, let me try to predict what will happen next:

  • When the pandemic is over, the Cubans will publish mortality rates achieved with their homeopathic prevention [A].
  • They will compare them to data from a cohort that did not receive the homeopathic treatment [B].
  • Neither of the data-sets will be transparent and nobody will be able to check its reliability.
  • The comparison will yield a significant difference in favour of homeopathy.
  • The Cubans will use this to market their remedy.
  • The world of homeopathy will use it as a proof that homeopathy is effective (it wouldn’t be the first time).

Nothing wrong with that, some will say. Others who understand research methodology will, however, point out that these data are less than convincing.

In such case/control studies, one large group of patients [A] is compared to another group [B]. Group A has been treated homeopathically, while group B received no homeopathy. Any difference in outcome between A and B might be due to a range of circumstances that are unrelated to the homeopathic treatment, for instance:

  • group A might have been less ill than group B,
  • group A might have been better nourished,
  • group A might have benefited from better hygiene,
  • group A might have received better care,
  • group B might have received treatments that made the situation not better but worse,
  • the researchers might have prettified the data to make group A look better.

Such concerns are not totally unfounded; after all, Cuba seems to have a long history of making irresponsible claims for their homeopathic products.

Yes, this blog is about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – but today is an exception.

There has been much news coverage of potential treatments of coronavirus. Some of the candidates such as hydroxychloroquine, have even been tested in clinical trials. However, due to the preliminary nature of these studies, the value of of the drugs remains uncertain.

What is needed in our present dire situation is a large and rigorous trial of already licensed drugs that might have a positive effect. With a bit of luck, such a study could save thousands of lives.

Unfortunately, setting up a trial of this nature is difficult and takes time.

Now the UK’s government has announced that the world’s largest randomised clinical trial of potential coronavirus treatments has been running since 19 March. It was designed, planned, approved and implemented in record time. The study is aimed at testing several promising treatments. If the findings are positive, they will be given to NHS patients as quickly as possible.

Almost 1,000 patients from 132 different UK hospitals have to date been recruited. The trial is testing a number of medicines recommended by an expert panel advising the Chief Medical Officer for England. They include:

  • Lopinavir-Ritonavir, commonly used to treat HIV
  • Dexamethasone, a type of steroid use in a range of conditions to reduce inflammation
  • Hydroxychloroquine, a treatment for malaria

Adult patients who have been admitted to hospital with COVID-19 are being invited to take part. The trial is designed such that, as further promising drugs are identified, they can be added to the study within days. Patients who volunteer are randomly allocated to

  1. standard care alone,
  2. or to standard of care plus one of the additional drugs.

The data will be analysed on a rolling basis so that any beneficial treatments are identified as soon as possible.

This study seems like an excellent idea. I do hope it is successful and manages to find a drug that increases the chances of survival. I keep my fingers crossed.

 

PS

Please note that the scientists did not include homeopathy or other SCAMs into their trial.

Yesterday, it was announced that Prince Charles, a long-time advocate of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), has been taken ill with the corona virus. Since then, I have been inundated with messages about this fact. Many thought that, because Charles and I have a bit of history (details here), I might now ‘have a cup of tea and a malicious smile on [my] face thinking about it’, as someone put it on Twitter. Others made sarcastic comments suggesting that he will be fine because of all the help of the homeopathic cult.

I cannot join these sentiments. On the contrary, I sincerely wish him well – not because he is royalty, but because I wish everyone well who has been infected with this virus.

And I honestly do not think that Charles will be popping homeopathic placebos to save his life. Whenever a member of his (usually pro-homeopathy) family had fallen seriously ill in the past, they very quickly sought the help of the very best evidence-based medicine could offer. Charles’ present illness will be no exception, I am sure. If his infection becomes serious, he will have the benefit of everything modern scientific healthcare has to offer.

When he recovers – and I do hope he does – he will have plenty of time to think. Chances are that he never before had been afflicted with a killer disease. This should make him see things from an entirely new perspective. He must realise that so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is an option only as long as one is healthy. Once the battle for saving a life is on, real medicine must save the day.

I am a born optimist, and therefore I hope that Charles on his sick-bed might even think a little further. He might realise that a health crisis, like the current corona pandemic, regularly brings out the charlatans who are trying to flog their wares or services to the unsuspecting public. On my blog, I have discussed some of these irresponsible rogues:

With a bit of luck, Charles might even reflect that his past endorsement of these quacks has been less than helpful; in the present crisis, it might even cost lives. Charles, I hope, will thus reconsider his attitude towards medicine, heaven knows, he might even become an outspoken advocate fro EBM!

So yes, I am an incurable optimist. Yet, I realise, of course, that Charles might not have any of these insights. That would be regrettable, but it does not deter me from wishing him a speedy recovery:

GET WELL SOON, CHARLES!

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