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WHO warns against using homoeopathy to treat serious diseases

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b3447 (Published 24 August 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3447
  1. Oona Mashta
  1. 1London

    The World Health Organization has said that homoeopathy should not be used to treat several serious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, after doctors drew attention to the continuing promotion of such complementary therapies in many developing countries.

    WHO also said that it does not recommend homoeopathy for treating diarrhoea in infants or flu.

    WHO experts, who have clearly criticised the use of treatments that have not been proved clinically and that are not evidence based, said that homoeopathy had “no place” in treatment of these five dangerous diseases.

    The organisation was responding to calls from young doctors and researchers who fear that the promotion of homoeopathy for these life threatening conditions in developing countries could put people’s lives at risk.

    The Voice of Young Science network, a group coordinated by the charity Sense About Science, has now written to health ministers highlighting WHO’s position and asking them to work against the promotion of homoeopathy for these dangerous diseases.

    The network said: “We ask that you publicise this advice to healthcare agencies in your country and join our effort to combat the promotion of ineffective therapies such as homeopathy, which rarely contains any active ingredient, for these serious diseases.”

    In a letter to WHO in June doctors from the United Kingdom and Africa said they were frustrated with the continuing promotion of homoeopathy as a preventive treatment for serious diseases. They also listed examples of recent and planned developments of homoeopathic clinics offering treatment for the five conditions.

    They said: “Those of us working with the most rural and impoverished people of the world already struggle to deliver the medical help that is needed.

    “When homeopathy stands in place of effective treatment, lives are lost.”

    Leading experts in malaria, HIV, and other serious diseases affecting the developing world supported the call for WHO to take action.

    Alastair Miller, consultant physician at the tropical and infectious diseases unit at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, said, “We frequently see patients in our unit from developing countries who have been advised to take inappropriate and unproven therapies for their HIV and not to take the very well established and effective antiviral agents. This leads to tragic and inevitable breakdown of the immune system and very adverse outcomes for our patients.”

    Mario Raviglione, director of WHO’s Stop TB initiative, said, “Our evidence based WHO TB treatment and management guidelines, as well as the international standards of tuberculosis care, do not recommend the use of homoeopathy.”

    A spokesman for WHO’s department of child and adolescent health and development said, “We have found no evidence to date that homoeopathy would bring any benefit to the treatment of diarrhoea in children. Homoeopathy does not focus on the treatment and prevention of dehydration, in total contradiction with the scientific basis and our recommendations for the management of diarrhoea.”

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3447

    Footnotes