Australasian Science takes on Homeopathy

Hard to argue with a lot of the press release reproduced below, although there’s always the risk of generalisations killing off what may be some avenues worth exploring:

The Real Cost of Homeopathy

There is no evidence that homeopathy is more effective than a placebo yet medical insurance companies – subsidised by the government – are extending their cover due to client demand, while health authorities lack the power to act on misleading claims that can have lethal consequences.

Dr Ken Harvey of La Trobe University’s School of Public Health says health insurance premiums are being driven “higher than they need to be because the insurers involved fund alternative therapies that lack an evidence base, such as homeopathy, reflexology and iridology”.

Writing in the June edition of Australasian Science, published today, Dr Harvey says the practice is occurring at a time “when premiums are consistently rising faster than the consumer price index. As a result many people, especially those retired on fixed incomes, have great difficulty maintaining their private health insurance cover.

“As the government substantially subsidises private health insurance, this means that all taxpayers are contributing to therapies that lack evidence of their effectiveness.

Dr Harvey explains that homeopathic preparations contain little or no active ingredient. While this means “they are unlikely to directly cause harm,” he warns that “the results can be deadly… Earlier this year, a homeopath and his wife were found guilty of manslaughter after their baby daughter died when they treated her severe eczema with homeopathic remedies rather than conventional medicines.“

Dr Harvey says that “the World Health Organisation does not recommend homeopathy for the treatment of serious diseases”, while the UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee “recently concluded that the UK health service should cease funding homeopathy because ‘homeopathic products perform no better than placebos’.”

In Australia, claims made for homeopathic medicines are subject to the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code, but Dr Harvey says that “the Complaints Resolution Panel that administers the Code has no power to enforce its determinations. The end result is that around one-third of those found to breach the rules fail to publish retractions or withdraw misleading material.”

Dr Harvey describes a case where “an Australian homeopath claimed that homeopathic immunisation was effective against polio, meningococcal disease, cholera, whooping cough and other serious diseases… These claims breached numerous sections of the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code, including promotion of a treatment for which there was no evidence of efficacy. The homeopath was asked to publish a retraction and withdraw misleading information but she refused.”

Dr Harvey concludes: “The Rudd government needs to stand up to the alt-med lobby and give the TGA real teeth”.