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Following the debate: homeopathy and anthroposophic medicine

06 Feb 2019

How is it that this comparatively small and emerging sector is able to fill the headlines so regularly?  Homeopathy has always been the subject of public debate and from its inception has provoked scientific disputes. This is an intrinsic outcome of its specific paradigms, which are increasingly supported by good data. Scientific debate is important. However, it is increasingly clear that some actors in this debate base their arguments on false information and unscientific methods, with an increasing intention of influencing policy making on homeopathic medicinal products. This article provides a round-up of news on homeopathy that has been recently in the public eye, both constructive and negative, bringing you up to date with the latest stories and giving you access to the often hidden facts behind the headlines.

  • Firstly and significantly, Homeopathy Research Institute has released a new video, ‘Inaccurate research is everyone’s problem’, demonstrating how the inaccurate Information Paper on homeopathy (published March 2015) by Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is damaging homeopathy worldwide. NHMRC faces an imminent verdict from the Ombudsman to the challenge to its report, requiring it to answer charges of scientific misconduct, procedural breaches, bias and conflict of interest. The campaign ‘Release the First Report’, calling on NHMRC to release its first, favourable and then buried report, has now reached nearly 75,000 signatures. The video shows clearly the negative impact this report has had in Europe and how the media has been manipulated in this process.
  • On 18 November, a number of sector stakeholders took advantage of European Antibiotics Awareness Day to highlight the role, underpinned by research, that homeopathy can play in fighting antimicrobial resistance. European Committee for Homeopathy (homeopathic doctors) and IAVH (international association for veterinary homeopathy) issued a joint statement and call for action. EUROCAM, the European alliance for complementary and alternative medicine, also put the spotlight on the role of CAM in reducing this problem by releasing a number of new materials. The Austrian homeopathic doctors took the opportunity of European Antibiotics Awareness Day to inform the public about how homeopathic medicines can help.
  • ECHAMP has issued a second open letter to the Spanish government in response to its efforts to seek withdrawal at EU level of the medicinal status of homeopathic products and its new policies to restrict what it calls ‘pseudo therapies’. These efforts have attracted media coverage in Spain (and here) and across Europe (France, Ireland); a robust response from health professionals (and here) asks the health minister to respect the right of patients to choose their treatment; the Spanish homeopathic patients’ associations have come together to underline the rights of patients to freedom of choice. In addition, a firm response from the European Commission in answer to a Parliamentary question confirms the value of the current EU legislation: “The current regulatory framework for homeopathic products .. strikes a balance between ensuring their quality and safety .. while at the same time giving citizens access to these products.” One article emphasises the contrasting strength of homeopathy in Germany; here a description in English of the situation in Spain. 27 Spanish scientific societies, professional associations and patients’ groups have signed a manifesto supporting complementary therapies and EUROCAM has also written an open letter to the Spanish government outlining the legal, regulatory and scientific status of CAM.
  • Meanwhile, in France, a major media debate has gathered momentum (and here, here, here and most recently here and a radio debate here and here – information in English here), sparked by a campaign of French doctors (CNGE) calling for the end to reimbursement of homeopathic medicines by the national health insurance, reinforced by an additional campaign by members of the academy of science (with radio debate). The health ministry has delayed its decision till spring 2019; the homeopathic doctors (see also TV debate with ECH President), the homeopathic medicines manufacturers and the homeopathic patients are fighting back; 74% of French want to maintain the reimbursement system (see IPSOS survey) and 69% trust in homeopathy; two of the signatories of the public condemnation of complementary medicine by 124 doctors last March have been sanctioned in Reims for their failure to respect the expertise of their fellow doctors; media coverage of these issues continues to justify the activity with reference to the inaccurate NHMRC report (see above).
  • This widespread backlash against the state funding of homeopathy has attracted attention in the European level media too and in the established market of Germany.
  • In Belgium, the media report on the decision by the largest health insurer in Flanders to stop reimbursing homeopathy, stimulating debate in the Belgian media (and in English) on this decision and of the pros and cons of this treatment. Arguing forcibly in favour of homeopathy, the Belgian homeopathic patients association issued a statement highlighting that patients have the legal right to choose their treatment and the Belgian homeopathic doctors issues a statement speaking out against ‘fake news’ .
  • In Austria, a decision by the Vienna medical school to withdraw the homeopathy course, has triggered a widespread debate on the benefits of homeopathy in the Austrian media (here and here and here, and here with podcast here). At the same time, a recent survey shows that the percentage of Austrians using homeopathy increased from 50% in 2016 to 62% in 2017; 72% of Austrians consider homeopathy to be effective, 91% replied that homeopathic medicines do not have many side effects and 88% want conventional medicine and homeopathy to be combined.
  • In Switzerland, a public debate on the costs of homeopathic treatment is underway (see summary of articles) – some are questioning the interpretation by Sante Suisse of its costs data (and here); on the positive side, the University of Basel has created a new post for a Professor of Translational Complementary Medicine and a new news portal offering independent scientific commentary on developments in complementary medicine has been launched.
  • In the UK, the campaign against homeopathy has taken a different turn – following pressure from the sceptics, the Charity Commission, which regulates organisations with charitable status, has issued new guidance to organisations which promote complementary medicine, including homeopathy, saying they must provide scientific evidence for any claims they make or risk losing their charitable status; the British Homeopathic Association welcomes the guidance which it believes will give the public greater confidence. At the same time, a new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Integrated Healthcare calls for complementary, traditional and natural medicine to rescue the National Health Service from financial crisis.
  • In Germany, the media are reporting that nearly 70% of health insurance companies are offering their clients homeopathy; major stakeholder effort is seeking to ensure that positive messages in favour of homeopathy are reaching the public domain: a new website from the German doctors provides up to date information on developments in Germany, while DAMiD, the umbrella organisation for anthroposophic medicine, has released a short new video on anthroposophic medicine; a facebook survey by CDU MP Prof. Claudia Schmidtke found 61% of respondents in favour of homeopathy and CSU Bavaria minister for health confirms the importance of integrated medicine. These initiatives are supported by press material from the German homeopathic doctors. And academics and doctors are taking a strong position against the sceptics: a long list of well-established medical associations and a large number of renowned physicians and scientists have put their name to an article in the Deutsche Zeitschrift für Onkologie, Homeopathy and Intellectual Honesty. A Commentary which contasts three examples of propoganda against homeopathy with the actual evidence; the article rejects totalitarian thought patterns in our health system, demonstrating how they are are incompatible with German constitutional law, and underlines the need for an evidence-based Integrative Medicine.
  • And finally, the Romanian Senate has rejected a law proposal to include the sentence “This product has no effect on health” on all homeopathic medicines. The vote against this proposal took place after a lively debate.
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