Homeopaths 'endangering lives' by offering malaria remedies
Alok Jha, science correspondent
Friday July 14, 2006
Doctors and scientists have warned holidaymakers not to use homeopathic remedies for malaria and other serious tropical diseases or their lives could be put at risk.
The warning follows an investigation by the BBC which found 10 homeopathic clinics and pharmacies allegedly went against government guidelines by recommending unproven remedies for malaria and other tropical diseases such as typhoid, dengue fever and yellow fever.
Scientists said the homeopaths' advice was reprehensible and likely to endanger lives. Professor Geoffrey Pasvol, a tropical medicine expert at Imperial College London, said: "Medical practitioners would be sued, taken to court and found guilty for far less. What this investigation has unearthed is appalling." Malaria is a major risk to people travelling in the tropics and can kill within days of the first symptoms. Almost 2,000 people returned to Britain with malaria last year and 12 died. According to the Department of Health, most cases resulted from people not taking the appropriate protective drugs.
Dr Ron Behrens, director of the travel clinic at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, said: "We have treated people ... who thought they were protected by homeopathic medicines and contracted malaria."
In 2005 the Health Protection Agency issued a warning because of people falling seriously ill when using homeopathic remedies. Its advisory committee on malaria said: "Herbal remedies have not been tested for their ability to prevent or treat malaria and are not licensed for these uses ... There is no scientific proof that homeopathic remedies are effective in either preventing or treating malaria."
In the BBC's Newsnight investigation, an undercover researcher went to 10 alternative health clinics. She asked for advice on protecting herself from malaria on a holiday to Africa and each time was recommended homeopathic products instead of being directed to a GP or conventional travel clinic. Among the clinics and pharmacies visited were the Vale Practice in East Dulwich, Helios in Covent Garden, and Nelsons off Oxford Street in London.
A spokesperson for Nelson's said staff were trained to provide responsible advice about malaria protection, and to advise that patients should consult a GP before deciding on treatments. "We are concerned to hear that this may not have happened in this case and have taken immediate steps to reiterate to the pharmacy team that this advice must be given."
A statement from Helios said: "We give advice on traditional homeopathic remedies which have been used by people for many decades in their attempt to avoid conventional treatment for malaria. There are many bibliographic references to the use of these remedies."
The Vale Practice said it was "a complementary therapy centre that does exactly that - complement the medical model. This, however, can only be done after a thorough consultation. In this instance a consultation was refused and direct and leading questions were put to the homeopath which can be taken out of context. Unfortunately this example is unrepresentative of practice policies. The Vale Practice ... has a policy of referring to the GP whenever indicated."