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Homeopathy: At odds with modern medicine?

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Ayurvedic and homeopathic medicine treatments.

Questions about the effectiveness of homeopathic treatments have recently been raised with Shripad Yesso Naik, the Union Minister of State for the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH).

The questions, posed by Rajya Sabha MP and former hockey star Dilip Tirkey, asked the Union Minister what AYUSH was doing to counter “media reports (which) debunk homoeopathy as unreliable and unscientific method of treatment”. Tirkey referred to the reports by international media and the scientific community at large as “false propaganda against homeopathy”.

Naik responded by announcing the formation of a committee to address the issue. The committee will be formed of the chairpersons of multiple committees including the Scientific Advisory Committee, Sub-committee on clinical research and Basic & Fundamental research. According to The Wire, the ministry has already written to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, over his dismissal of homeopathy and astrology as “bogus.”

India is one of the few countries that still acknowledges homeopathy as a legitimate medical concept. Many other governments have gone as far as to pass legislation to block the funding of homeopathy as part of national health programmes. An investigation into homeopathy as part of the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK likened homeopathy to a simple placebo effect that if prescribed by doctors, would weaken the level of trust between doctor and patient. This is despite the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine still providing “alternative” treatments.

In July this year, the British government defunded homeopathic medicine, no longer providing it free of charge as part of the NHS. Amongst a funding crisis within the NHS, it was understandably deemed that funding could be better allocated elsewhere. This move came despite a high profile for homeopathy from the Secretary of State for Health and the heir to the throne.

In both the US and Russia, homeopathic medicine has also been under scathing attacks. The Russian Academy of Sciences has declared homeopathy a “pseudoscience” and called on media to present the practice as “on par with magic” as they deem it to contradict the laws of chemistry and biology. The US Federal Trade Commission  — far more subtle in its terminology than Russia in this case — has required that packaging for homeopathic products state that there is no scientific evidence to back the claims of the product as to its medical efficacy.

Homeopathy admittedly may have some role to play in healthcare systems. Antibiotic over-prescription is common, particularly for minor illnesses that do not require medication. Over-prescription is thought to be a major cause in the development of antibiotic resistant diseases. In these cases of minor illnesses, homeopathic treatments would be an ideal candidate, and potentially an effective way of curbing the increasing rate of development of antibiotic resistant diseases.

However, homeopathy, particularly in India, is intruding into the treatments of diseases in which proven medical intervention is a necessity. A recent example is the homeopathic treatment developed for diabetes, which could lead to people neglecting treatment via insulin in favour of the homeopathic option. This is where homeopathic treatment becomes a danger, as it can lead people into refusing standard medical treatment, potentially risking lives in the process.

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