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Homeopaths Without Borders practice exploitation not humanitarianism

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 17 September 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5448

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Re: Homeopaths Without Borders practice exploitation not humanitarianism

David M Shaw has understood the main aims of the Homeopaths without Borders
(in German Homöopathen ohne Grenzen, HOG) mission: “it seeks to propagate homeopathy in countries where it has not previously had a foothold“ (1).

And yes he is right! HOG is a non-profit organisation consisting of well-trained and experienced homeopathic practitioners, who offer some of their time and expertise to support people in need by the means of homeopathy.

Offering a thorough training in homeopathy to local medical staff, so that they are fully aware of its possibilities and its limitations, is our ultimate reason.

In his article Shaw considers this to be exploitation instead of humanitarianism based on the assumption that homeopathy is not effective. Thus he accuses members of HOG of unethical behaviour; homeopathy altogether is unethical following various articles of the author. (2,3,4)

In his reasoning he just ignores the fact that there is plenty of research being done that clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of this method (5,6,7,8, just to name a few).

Being the chair of HOG and Homeopaths World Wide (HWW) I want to take the chance and object to the accusation of Shaw.

First of all it needs to be declared that nobody is ever prevented from seeking biomedical healthcare! HOG offers homeopathic treatment always alongside the available possibilities. Considering the fact that homeopathy is clinically effective, cost-effective and safe as proved by the study of Bornhöft and Matthiessen (8), it would be rather unethical not to offer homeopathic treatment especially in situations where medical aid is not available. The work of our members in Kenya is a living example: the education of traditional birth attendants (TBAs) in the use of homeopathic remedies to prevent post partal bleeding did help a lot to reduce women’s postpartum mortality. Our educated TBAs live and work in remote areas of rural Kenya. TBAs and their patients have to overcome long distances by boat or donkey to the next hospital, frequently women died before reaching help. Being a practising homeopath, having experienced these situations in the field, I am wholeheartedly convinced about the ethics of our practise.

Whenever a new project is set up, which by the way happens only on request, the members of HOG do inquire about local healing traditions. One of our aims is to reinforce the knowledge about local plants and their healing effects, in order to respect cultural knowledge and traditions. It is easy to rest at the homely desktop and theorize and condemn harmful homeopathy instead of going out and have an open-minded look of what is happening in the field.

We are fully aware of the fact that further research has to be done in order to understand the efficacy of homeopathy. HOG is ready and interested in controversy discussions like these in order to support a further development of homeopathy. This was one of the reasons we invited sceptics of homeopathy to a public discussion in the frame of our symposium in Berlin in June this year. Sadly only two members of the scene have been courageous and curious enough to come and discuss.

(1) BMJ 2013;347:f5448
(2) Shaw, D. (2010) 'Unethical aspects of homeopathic dentistry', British Dental Journal, 209(10), 493-496
(3) Shaw, D. (2011) 'Homeopathy and medical ethics', FACT: Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 16(1), 17-21.
(4) Shaw, D. M. (2010) 'Homeopathy is where the harm is: five unethical effects of funding unscientific 'remedies'', Journal of Medical Ethics, 36(3), 130-131
(5) Linde K et al. Critical review and meta-analysis of serial agitated dilutions in experimental toxicology. Hum Exp Toxicol, 1994: 13 (7): 481-92
(6) Frass M, Dielacher C, Linkesch M, Endler C, Muchitsch I, Schuster E, Kaye A.
Influence of potassium dichromate on tracheal secretions in critically ill
patients. Chest. 2005 Mar;127(3):936-41.
(7) Frass M, Linkesch M, Banyai S, Resch G, Dielacher C, Löbl T, Endler C,
Haidvogl M, Muchitsch I, Schuster E. Adjunctive homeopathic treatment in
patients with severe sepsis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled
trial in an intensive care unit. Homeopathy. 2005 Apr;94(2):75-80.
(8) Homeopathy in Healthcare: Effectiveness, Appropriateness, Safety, Costs’ by Gudrun Bornhöft and Peter F. Matthiessen (Editors). 2011. ISBN 978-3-642-20637-5

Competing interests: No competing interests

11 October 2013
Elisabeth von Wedel
Homeopathic practitioner
Homeopaths without Borders