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

politics

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This recently published survey aimed to investigate the use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) among long-term cancer survivors and its links with healthy behaviour. Data was used from the VICAN survey, conducted in 2015-2016 on a representative sample of French cancer survivors 5 years after diagnosis.

Among the 4174 participants, 21.4% reported using SCAM at the time of the survey, including 8.4% who reported uses not associated with cancer. The most frequently cited reasons for using SCAM were:

  • to improve their physical well-being (83.0%),
  • to strengthen their body (71.2%),
  • to improve their emotional well-being (65.2%),
  • to relieve the side effects of treatment (50.7%).

The SCAM users who reported using SCAM to cure cancer or prevent relapses (8.5% of the participants) also used SCAM for other reasons. They had more often experienced cancer progression, feared a recurrence, and had a poorer quality of life because of sequelae, pain, and fatigue. They also consulted their general practitioners more frequently and had changed their lifestyle by adopting more healthy practices.

The authors concluded that the use of SCAM is not an alternative but a complementary means of coping with impaired health. Further research is now required to determine whether the use of SCAM reflects a lifestyle change or whether it assists survivors rather to make behavioural changes.

The 2012 data from the same survey had previously reported that, among the participants, 16.4% claimed to have used SCAM, and 45.3% of this group had not used SCAM before cancer diagnosis (new SCAM users). Commonly, SCAMs used were:

  • homeopathy (64.0%),
  • acupuncture (22.1%),
  • osteopathy (15.1%),
  • herbal medicine (8.1%),
  • diets (7.3%),
  • energy therapies (5.8%).

SCAM use was found to be significantly associated with younger age, female gender and a higher education level. Previous SCAM use was significantly associated with having a managerial occupation and an expected 5-year survival rate ≥80% at diagnosis; recent SCAM use was associated with cancer progression since diagnosis, impaired quality of life and higher pain reports.

In nearly half of the SCAM users, cancer diagnosis was one of the main factors which incited patients to use SCAM. Opting for SCAM was a pragmatic response to needs which conventional medicine failed to meet during the course of the disease.

These surveys mostly confirm what has been shown over and over again in other countries. What I find remarkable with these results, however, is the increase in SCAM use over time and the extraordinary high use of homeopathy by French cancer patients (more recently, the reimbursement of homeopathy in France has changed, of course). As homeopathy has no effects beyond placebo, this suggests that SCAM use by French cancer patients is far from being driven by evidence.

So, what then does determine it?

My best answer I can give to this question is this: relentless promotion through pharmacies, advertisements and journalists. These have all been very powerful in France in relation to homeopathy (hardly surprising, as the world’s largest homeopathic producer, Boiron, is based in France).

This leads me to the conclusion that SCAM is far more commercially driven than its enthusiasts would ever admit. They think of the pharmaceutical industry as the evil exploiter of the sick. It is now time to realise that the SCAM industry is, to a large extent, part of the pharmaceutical industry and often behaves just as badly or even worse: because what could be more unethical that selling placebos to desperate and vulnerable cancer patients?

When I discuss published articles on this blog, I usually focus on recent papers. Not so today! Today I write about a small study we published 17 years ago. It was conducted in Canada by researchers whom I merely assisted in designing the protocol and interpreting the findings.

They trained 8 helpers to pretend being customers of health food stores. They entered individually into assigned stores; the helpers had been informed to browse in the store until approached by an employee. At this time they would declare that their mother has breast cancer. They disclosed information on their mother’s condition, use of chemotherapy (Tamoxifen) and physician visits, only if asked. The helpers would then ask what the employee recommend for this condition. They followed a structured, memorized, pretested questionnaire that asked about product usage, dosage, cost, employee education and product safety or potential for drug interactions.

The helpers recorded which products were recommended by the health food store employees, along with the recommended dose and price per product as well as price per month. Additionally, they inquired about where the employee had obtained information on the recommended products. They also noted whether the employees referred them on to SCAM practitioners or recommended that they consult a physician. Full notes on the encounters were written immediately after leaving the store.

The findings were impressive. Of the 34 stores that met our inclusion criteria, 27 recommended SCAMs; a total of 33 different products were recommended. Here are some further findings:

  • Essiac was recommended most frequently.
  • The mean cost of the recommended products per month was $58.09 (CAD) (minimum $5.28, median $32.99, maximum $600).
  • Twenty-three employees (68%) did not ask whether the patient took prescription medications.
  • Fifteen (44%) employees recommended visiting a healthcare professional; these included: naturopaths (9), physicians (5) and nutritionists (1).
  • Health food store employees relied on a variety of sources of information. Twelve employees (35%) said they had received their information from books, 5 (15%) from a supplier, 3 (9%) had formal education in SCAM, 2 (6%) had in-store training, and 12 (35%) did not disclose their sources of information.

Since our paper has been published, several other investigations have addressed similar issues. Here are a few excerpts:

But why do I mention all this today?

The answer is that firstly, I think it is important to warn consumers of the often dangerous advice they might receive in HFSs. Secondly, I feel it would worthwhile to do further research, check whether the situation has changed and repeat a similar study today. Ideally, a new investigation should be conducted in different locations comparing several countries. If you have the possibility to plan and conduct such an experiment, please drop me a line.

Anyone who has followed the comments’ section of this blog knows that science communicators don’t always have it easy. In fact, they have to endure regular attacks. Now, this phenomenon has (as far as I know, for the first time) been investigated systematically.

The objective in this survey was to establish a taxonomy of common negative experiences encountered by those communicating medical science, and suggest guidelines so that they may be circumvented. A total of 142 prominent medical science communicators (defined as having >1000 Twitter followers and experience communicating medical science on social and traditional media platforms) were invited to take part in the survey. One hundred and one responses could be analysed.

The results show that:

  • 92% of the participants has experienced abusive behaviour (91.9%), including persistent harassment (69.3%) and physical violence and intimidation (5.9%).
  • 39% had received vexatious complaints to their employers, professional bodies or legal intimidation.
  • 62% reported negative mental health sequelae due to public outreach, including depression, anxiety and stress.
  • 20% had been obligated to seek police advice or legal counsel due to actions associated with their outreach work.
  • the majority targeted with vexatious complaints felt supported by their employer/professional body and 32% reported neutral, poor or non-existent support.

Here is a selection of the responses from the participants:

  • Accusations—including by one Senator—that [we are] uncaring, dismissive, neglectful, arrogant, or paid by pharma companies when advocating for vaccines. (Misrepresentation)
  • I find my expertise is questioned—this often seems to be when men find it difficult to accept women with intelligence and qualifications. Sexist insults are a typical go-to response. (Discreditation)
  • The worst one that hurt me professionally and personally was that activists gathered my emails using [Freedom of Information Requests] and handed chosen packets of them with a story to different reporters. (Misrepresentation/Discreditation/Dubious Amplification)
  • Persistent negative comments on twitter; usually it doesn’t last long but it can feel very intense while it’s happening! (Intimidation)
  • I have been served with a SLAPP lawsuit in order to silence my outreach work. Frequently receive harassing emails, malicious comments made on blog. (Malicious Complaints)
  • Social media co-ordinated intimidation, implied threats of legal action (for defamation). Mocking, undermining, condescension and attacks for being an industry shill, although. I am just a patient advocate. Being called a liar, that I never had cancer, that I deserved cancer due to my attitude, that I have been mutilated by conventional medical treatment, and that I am no longer a woman (having had mastectomy for cancer). That my cancer will return and I deserve that. (Dubious Amplification/Misrepresentation/Discreditation)
  • I have had anti-vaccine organizations and individuals attempt to prevent my public appearances and have been the subject of numerous online smear campaigns accusing me of being ‘a shill for Big Pharma’ etc. (Discreditation/Dubious Amplification)
  • Those who attack me very frequently try to do it by targeting me at my job, sending bogus complaints to my bosses and the university. From my observation, that is the go-to attack, the first thing these groups do. (Malicious Complaints)
  • I had to contact the police, who visited the person who was harassing me. I also involved social services. We bought a CCTV to monitor our front door after a strange envelope was hand delivered. The person involved has targeted several people before and continues to target individuals who advocate vaccination. (Intimidation)
  • Abuse and accusations of corruption are the most common adverse reaction I get. Sometimes a particular group petition one’s employer and try to create trouble for them. I have been lucky in the past when this happened to have had supportive universities who appreciate my outreach work. I have in the past had slightly unhinged individuals writing rambling, implicitly threatening letters to my office which ultimately required police intervention. (Discreditation/Malicious Complaints/Intimidation)
  • The worst are gendered insults (being called a cunt, etc.) and rape/death threats. I have had one empty legal threat that was widely publicized. (Intimidation/Malicious Complaints)
  • Regular threats to sue for defamation. (Malicious Complaints)
  • Attempts to get me fired, public records act requests for emails, verbal attacks on my children. (Malicious Complaints, Intimidation)
  • One of the most unpleasant things is that certain people or groupings will use very underhanded tactics to respond to perceived criticism. If they can’t refute the science, it isn’t uncommon for them to go after you personally, alleging all manner of things to anyone who’ll listen; that you’re incompetent, or unethical, or perverted. It seems they throw things wildly to see what sticks, but it can be extraordinarily unpleasant to endure. (Dubious Amplification/Discreditation)
  • My main concern has been obsessed individuals who declare their enmity and seem to be unconstrained by civil norms. (Intimidation)
  • Homeopathy advocates looked up my LinkedIn profile and called my employer to complain about my comments on the radio. My employer did not support me and I ended up having to stop the activity I had been planning. (Misrepresentation/Malicious Complaints)
  • Being threatened with physical violence. (Intimidation)
  • A delusional supporter of [an individual] I wrote about accused me and my lawyer of stalking him and killing his in-laws. He sent accusing emails to the faculty of my school and all the police departments in my state. [They] also accused me of being a terrorist and complained about me to the FBIs Terrorism Joint Task Force. That gave me many nervous, sleepless nights. (Discreditation/Malicious Complaints)
  • Death threats received, employer unhelpful, sorted myself. (Intimidation)
  • I haven’t experienced many negative encounters because I would say I am only lightly involved in public engagement. However the reason I don’t become more heavily involved in this area is fear of this kind of abuse and vexatious complaints to my employer or regulatory body. (Malicious Complaints)

The authors concluded as follows: The question of how we best communicate health science in the modern era is an area where more research is urgently required, especially on the role of social media, and optimum ways physicians, researchers and other public-facing figures can promote good medical science and mitigate falsehoods. The suggestions herein ought to be taken as a starting point, with discussion evolving as improved evidence materialises. There are wider problems implicit in all this that those communicating science cannot tackle in isolation; social media regulation particularly is a serious issue, both in regard to the spreading of misinformation/disinformation, and with respect to procedures preventing the potential weaponisation of social media platforms. Social media platforms must ultimately be made answerable to regulatory oversight, just as every other important aspect of life is; claims of innocence are unconvincing when their business model is so clearly dependent on advertising engagement at the cost of lives. The problem of poor reporting and false balance in conventional media outlets also must be considered, and there is significant scope for scientists and doctors to contribute to policy in these areas. There is ample evidence that physicians and scientists have an important role to play in combatting health disinformation, as has recently been argued by one of the authors in relation to vaccination for British Medical Journal opinion. But equally, it is crucial that those engaging in this vital work have the requisite support from their institutions, so that deleterious consequences of laudable outreach work might be circumvented. It is increasingly clear that disinformation about medicine and illness has become ubiquitous, with severe consequences for both our collective health and public understanding of medical science. Scientists and physicians must be at the vanguard of the pushback against these dangerous falsehoods—our societal well-being depends on it.

_______________________________________

This is an important paper, in my view. It is well worth reading in full.

I know many scientists who will no longer engage in science communication (other than publishing their papers and attending conferences) because they had one or two bad experiences. I certainly had hundreds of bad (some very bad) experiences, but I have taken the opposite decision.

Thus I started this blog, authored several books aimed at the consumer, give public lectures, etc. I have done this for many years despite the lack of support from my university and sometimes despite the opposite of support from my peers.

Why?

Why do I work tirelessly trying to inform consumers about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)?

Because, in view of the plethora of (often dangerous) misinformation, it is hugely important to get the word out to the men and women in the street. I pity the ones who regularly allege that I do all this because of the money I earn from such activity (on the whole, it costs me money). In fact, I do what I do because I hope it might

  • stimulate rational thought,
  • help people to make wise therapeutic decisions,
  • make a small contribution to public health,
  • and perhaps occasionally even save a life.

And the threats which I continue to receive merely indicate that I might be doing this job well, and prove how important the task really is.

The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) is the UK’s professional organisation of ‘lay-homeopaths’, therapists who treat patients without having studied medicine. They prefer the term ‘professional homeopathy’, but there is little professional about them, it seems. The SoH has a long track record of endangering public health by promoting anti-vaxx nonsense.

A few months ago, it was reported that Linda Wicks, chair of the Society of Homeopaths (S0H), has shared a series of petitions claiming that childhood immunisations are unsafe. Mrs Wicks also posted a petition supporting Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced former doctor who falsely linked the MMR vaccine to autism claiming that the scientific establishment’s rejection of his flawed research was ‘the greatest lie ever told’.

In 2018, I pointed out that the SoH was violating its own code of ethics. At the time, two new members were appointed to the Society’s Public Affairs (PAC) and Professional Standards (PSC)  committees, and both were promoting the deeply anti-vaxx CEASE therapy.

Today, THE TELEGRAPH reports that Sue Pilkington, the SoH’s ‘Head of Standards’, has been promoting anti-vaxx propaganda online. On April 14, she posted anti-vaxx content made by the ‘Children’s Health Defense’ – an organisation accused by NBC News last year as being one of the largest global creators of spreading misinformation’. The page advised that any new vaccine could trigger “lethal” immune reactions.

In a separate post on Facebook, Pilkington shared a post that describes vaccines as “poison” – alongside medical advice declaring that no child should be vaccinated, if any member of their family has a skin disorder. Pilkington also tried to contact Health Secretary Matt Hancock, attempting to share with him a video of content from an American comedian claiming that it’s ‘realistic’ for vaccines to cause autism.

As though this were not enough nonsense, Pilkington also promotes homeopathy as a solution to the current epidemic. On her homeopathy business website, she has section on coronavirus which states the following: “The current primary homeopathic remedy advised for Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) symptoms is Gelsemium with a possible following remedy of Eupatorium Perforatum, Bryonia or Belladonna depending on how the symptoms progress”. Other homeopathic remedies are in common use for people with influenza and pneumonia, according to Pilkington, these do not “prevent viruses” but may “reduce the severity and length of illness”. She also claims that homeopathy has a “great track record of success in epidemics” – referencing both the Spanish influenza pandemic and the bird flu pandemic.

“In our opinion, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has a simple choice to make: remove the SoH and their uninformed vaccination paranoia from the register, or continue to allow homeopaths to make these dangerous claims with the tacit approval of the PSA.” said Michael Marshall, projector director of the Good Thinking Society.

A government health spokesperson was quoted in today’s TELEGRAPH article stating this: “Vaccine misinformation in any form – book, film, website or otherwise – is completely unacceptable.” The spokesperson added that NICE does not recommend homeopathy for the treatment of any health condition and noted that vaccines “save lives and are a foundation of public health.”

 

In 2015, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences stated that “Homeopathic remedies don’t meet the criteria of evidence based medicine”  and that homeopathic products should follow the same strict scientific standards as conventional drugs. In 2017, the Scientific Advisory Board of European Academies (EASAC) concluded that there is no substantial evidence that homeopathy works and may even be harmful to our health.

Now, Hungary is about to act. New regulation is tightening the marketing of homeopathic products in Hungary. From Wednesday this week, homeopathic remedies can only be distributed in Hungary without a therapeutic indication or claim. The reason for this move is that none of the products’ efficacy have been adequately confirmed by rigorous clinical trials.

In a statement, the Hungarian National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition (OGYÉI) said the changes are due to a law amendment that came into effect last year. The new regulation only allows homeopathic medicines with therapeutic indications authorized before Hungary’s accession to the EU (2004), to be marketed after July 1, 2020, if they have complied with the EU regulations on the marketing of these medicines.

Currently, Hungary has no homeopathic product with therapeutic efficacy proven in clinical trials. The product license of homeopathic products – in compliance with the legislation of the European Union – can be obtained by two different procedures in Hungary. The so-called simplified procedure can be used for “high-dilution products” marketed without a therapeutic indication, in which case the effectiveness of the product does not need to be certified.

The “normal” procedure is applicable to homeopathic medicinal products marketed for a therapeutic indication, in which case, just as any other medicinal products, therapeutic efficacy must be clinically proven. OGYÉI emphasized that from July 1st, the advertising of marketable homeopathic remedies may only contain the label text of the product, no additional information.

The move by the Hungarian authorities is, of course, most welcome. It brings Hungary finally in line with the rest of the EU. The many enthusiasts of homeopathy will no doubt suspect a worldwide conspiracy against homeopathy. If so, they merely disclose how far they have put their heads into the sand. Such measures are nothing but the long overdue actions towards abolishing double standards that have existed far too long and have helped nobody except the homeopathic industry.

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.

Yesterday, I received a tweet from a guy called Bart Huisman (“teacher beekeeping, nature, biology, classical homeopathy, agriculture, health science, social science”). I don’t know him and cannot remember whether I had previous contact with him. His tweet read as follows:

“Why should anyone believe what Professor Edzard Ernst says, after he put his name to a BBC programme, he now describes as “deception”.”

This refers to a story that I had almost forgotten. It’s a nice one with a ‘happy ending’, so let me recount it here briefly.

In 2005, the BBC had hired me as an advisor for their 4-part TV series on alternative medicine.

The first part of the series was on acupuncture, and Prof Kathy Sykes presented the opening scene taking place in a Chinese operation theatre. In it a Chinese women was having open heart surgery with the aid of acupuncture. Kathy’s was visibly impressed and said on camera that the patient was having the surgery “with only needles to control the pain.”  However, the images clearly revealed that the patient was receiving all sorts of other treatments given through intra-venous lines. So, Prof Sykes was telling the UK public a bunch of porkies. This was bound to confuse many viewers.

One of them was Simon Singh. At the time, I did not know Simon (to be honest, I did not even know of him) and was surprised to receive a phone call from him. He politely asked me to confirm that I had been the adviser of the BBC on this production. I was happy to confirm this fact. Then he asked why I had missed such a grave error. I replied that I could not possibly have spotted it, because all I had been asked to do was to review and correct the text of the programme which the BBC had sent to me by email. Before it was broadcast, I had not seen a single passage of the film.

Correcting the text had already led to several problems (not so much regarding the acupuncture part but mostly the other sections), because the BBC was reluctant to change several of the mistakes I had identified. When I told them that, in this case, I would quit, they finally found a way to alter them. But the cooperation had been far from easy. I explained all this to Simon and eventually he asked me whether I would be willing to support the official complaint he was about to file with the BBC. I agreed. This is probably where I used the term ‘deception’ that Mr Huisman mentioned in his tweet.

So, Simon submitted his complaint and eventually won the case.

But this is not the happy ending I was referring to.

During the course of the complaint, Simon and I realised that we were thinking alike and were getting on well. A few months later, he suggested that the two of us write a book together about alternative medicine. At first, I was hesitant. Simon said, “let’s try just one chapter, and see how it works out.” So we did. It turned out to be fun and instructive for both of us. So we did the other chapters as well. The book was published in 2008 and is called TRICK OR TREATMENT. It was published in about 20 different languages and the German version became ‘science book of the year in 2011 (I think).

And that’s not the happy ending either (in fact, it caused a lot of hardship for Simon who was sued by the BCA; luckily, he won that case too).

The real happy ending is the fact that Simon and I became friends for life.

Thank you Bart Huisman for reminding me of this rather lovely story.

 

By guest blogger Loretta Marron

If scientists were fearful of a clinical trial’s producing negative results, would they even pursue it? A draft Chinese regulation issued in late May aims to criminalise individual scientists and organisations whom China claims damage the reputation of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Beijing has a reputation for reprimanding those who decry TCM. Such criticism is blocked on Chinese Internet. Silencing doctors is becoming the norm.

In January 2018, former anaesthetist, Tan Qindong, was arrested and spent more than three months in detention after criticising a widely advertised, best-selling ‘medicinal’ TCM liquor. Claiming that it was a ‘poison’, he believed that he was protecting the elderly and vulnerable patients with high blood pressure. Police claimed that a post on social media damaged the reputation of the TCM ‘liquor’ and of the company making it. Shortly after release, he suffered post-traumatic stress and was hospitalised.

On 30 December 2019, Chinese ophthalmologist, the late Dr Li Wenliang, was one of the first to recognise the outbreak of COVD-19. He posted a private warning to a group of fellow doctors about a possible outbreak of an illness resembling severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). He encouraged them to protect themselves from infection. Days later, after his post when viral, he was summoned to the Public Security Bureau in Wuhan and forced to “admit to lying about the existence of a worrying new virus”. Li was accused of violating the provisions of the “People’s Republic of China Public Order Management and Punishment Law” for spreading “unlawful spreading of untruthful topics on the internet” and of disturbing the social order. He was made to sign a statement that he would “halt this unlawful behaviour”.

In April 2020, Chinese physician Yu Xiangdong, a senior medico who worked on the front line battling COVID-19, posted on Weibo, a Twitter-like site, a criticism of the use of antibiotics and TCM to treat COVID-19. He was demoted from his positions as assistant dean at the Central Hospital in the central city of Huangshi and director of quality management for the city’s Edong Healthcare Group. Well known for promoting modern medicine amongst the Chinese, Yu had almost a million followers on social media. All his postings vanished.

Beijing insists that TCM has been playing a crucial role in COVID-19 prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. Claims continue to be made for “effective TCM recipes”. However, no randomised clinical trial has been published in any reputable journal.

TCM needs proper scrutiny, but criticising it could land you years in prison. If the benefits of suggested herbal remedies are to be realised, good clinical studies must be encouraged. For TCM, this might never be permitted.

Don’t think for a moment that you are safe in Australia.

Article 8.25 of the Free Trade Agreement Between the Government of Australia and the Government of the People’s Republic of China reads:

Traditional Chinese Medicine Services (“TCM”)

  1. Within the relevant committees to be established in accordance with this Agreement, and subject to available resources, Australia and China shall cooperate on matters relating to trade in TCM services.
  2. Cooperation identified in paragraph 2 shall:

(a)    include exchanging information, where appropriate, and discussing policies, regulations and actions related to TCM services; and

(b)   encourage future collaboration between regulators, registration authorities and relevant professional bodies of the Parties to facilitate trade in TCM and complementary medicines, in a manner consistent with all relevant regulatory frameworks. Such collaboration, involving the competent authorities of both Parties – for Australia, notably the Department of Health, and for China the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine – will foster concrete cooperation and exchanges relating to TCM.

‘HOMEOPATHY RESOURCE’ claim they are the online web site for accurate information on homeopathy, homeopaths and homeopathic organizations. On 18 June, they published an article entitled “Another Remarkable Demonstration of Homeopathy’s Effectiveness in Covid-19: ONLY 19 Deaths out of 35 million in Kerala, India”. Here it is in its full beauty:

The State of Kerela India has shown that homeopathy and grassroots health care works dramatically well in epidemic and pandemic situations.. The state, in spite of areas of great density, has reported only 19 deaths. This compares to the UK which has a population of 66 million people but a tragic 41,698 deaths.

The region’s Health Minister Shailaja Teacher has been called the “Coronavirus Slayer” after introducing homeopathy as a primary means of dealing with the epidemic. Kerala India has already come through two Nipah virus epidemics under her watch.

Tactics used by Shailaja included encouraging the use of homeopathy. In a recent media meeting, she talked about the need “to improve the immunity and resistance power of each individual not yet positive to Coronavirus, with the help of Homeopathic/ Ayurvedic medicines. That will help them resist the Coronavirus infection, help them to tide over the infection well, if at all they contract it…… everyone should take Homeopathic & Ayurvedic preventative treatments available.”

According to Dr E.S.Rajendran who practices in Kerala “The total number of people who received the homeopathic preventive medicine Ars alb 30 through Kerala government as on June 1st was 10 million. An equal number of people have also received the same through voluntary organisations. The remaining population is expected to receive the preventive medicine in another one month.” This distribution was carried out in each district with the help of resident associations and was achievable because there is a huge demand for homeopathy from the people.

_____________________________________

Do ‘HOMEOPATHY RESOURCE’ really think that this is ‘accurate information’?

Do they feel that it amounts to evidence that homeopathy prevents COVID-19 infections?

Do they believe that it is responsible to promote such a message?

If so, they are more deluded than their homeopathic remedies are diluted!

There is a plethora of factors that might have contributed to the low infection rate in Kerela. Here are some that spring into my mind (in descending order of probability):

  1. Social distancing measures might have been put in place at the right time.
  2. Hand-washing might have been better accepted than in the UK.
  3. Face-masks might have been more common.
  4. The government might have been less incompetent than the one in the UK.
  5. The pandemic might be arriving with some delay in Kerela (in the last 2 days the COVID cases have more than doubled in Kerela).
  6. The hot weather might have inhibited the spread of the infection.
  7. The Ayurvedic medicine mentioned by the health minister might have worked.
  8. There might be many more cases due to under-diagnosis and poor testing.
  9. The holy cows might have prevented infections.
  10. Homeopathy works dramatically well in epidemic and pandemic situations.

Call me a sceptic, but – whatever turns out to be true (and I sincerely hope that the case numbers stay low in Kerela) – I do not think that ‘HOMEOPATHY RESOURCE’ is providing accurate information with their recent post.

And call me a pessimist, but I fail to see any good evidence to assume that homeopathic remedies have any effect in treating or preventing viral infections. In fact,

HIGHLY DILUTE HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES ARE PURE PLACEBOS! 

Siddha medicine is based on a combination of ancient medicinal practices and spiritual disciplines as well as alchemy and mysticism. It is thought to be one of the oldest system of healthcare of India that developed during the Indus civilization, which flourished between 2500 and 1700 BCE.

It has been reported that the Indian ‘National Institute of Siddha’ (NIS) claim to have successfully treated 160 COVID-19 positive patients. Subsequently, they have requested the government to hand over all COVID-19 Care Centres in Chennai and let Siddha doctors treat all COVID-patients. They say they are confident of flattening the curve in Chennai and convert it into a safe zone in just matter of days.

The NIS claim to have three potent combinations of Siddha drugs. “Depending upon the availability and quantity required for treating Coronavirus positive patients, we have after thorough research, come out with three different effective combinations of the Siddha preparations,” Dr R Meenakumari, Director of NIS, said. The treatment low-cost compared to the prohibitive cost in corporate hospitals and all the Siddha medicines are locally available, she added. “We have requested the state government to hand over all the COVID-19 Care Centres to us and allow us to treat all the patients. Our Siddha drug combination is potent enough to convert a positive patient into Coronavirus negative in three days’ time,” she claimed.

Her confidence stems from the fact that the Siddha doctors here have “successfully” treated 160 patients besides
23 inmates of the Puzhal Central Prison. “Initially, we treated 85 patients with SRM Medical College and Hospital and another 75 at the Greater Chennai Corporation… They all recovered and tested negative after five days of successful treatment,” she claimed. “The combination that we have prepared will help to cure the infected patient within three days… Siddha medicine has huge potential to treat the patients and there are possibilities to use the medicine to save precious human lives”.

The combination drug in question seems to be similar to or identical with Kabasura KudineerAlso termed ‘Nilavembu Kudineer‘, this drug is a powder form of medicine mainly used in the treatment of respiratory problems such as fever, cold, severe phlegm and flu. This polyherbal Siddha medicine is also widely used as a prophylactic during times of viral epidemics. To get the proper benefits, it should be made into a decoction and then consumed. 
Kabasura Kudineer
is made up of 15 different ingredients:

  1. ginger,
  2. cloves,
  3. aakarkara,
  4. harad,
  5. oregano,
  6. giloy,
  7. chiretta,
  8. nagarmotha,
  9. kali mirch
  10. tragiainvolucrata,
  11. vajradanti,
  12. malabar nut,
  13. kuth,
  14. ajwain,
  15. leghupatha.

In 2009, it allegedly helped containing the spread of swine flu and, in 2012, the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had requested public to use Nilavembu Kudineer prepared by the Institute to prevent dengue.

Meanwhile, the ‘Central Council for Research in Siddha’ has sent a proposal to the state government to include the
traditional medicine in the treatment protocols at the state-run CCCs. “We have also urged the state government to include the Brahmananda Bhairava Mathirai a herbo-mineral preparation, which has already been approved by the AYUSH ministry to treat persons with COVID-19 related fever, at all the COVID-19 wards,” a senior doctor at the CCRS said.

Of course, we all wish that an effective treatment against COVID-19 will be found soon. However, what the NIS calls THOROUGH RESEARCH looks like a flimsy bit of pseudo-research. And their assertion that their herbal mixture turns positive into negative patients within three days is a claim that sounds far too good to be true.

I have no reason to doubt that the NIS is full of good intentions. But I am reminded of Bert Brecht’s bon mot: ‘the opposite of good is not evil, but good intentions’.

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