One document brought together thousands of health experts with one goal: to ask that unproven treatments, such as homeopathy, not be sold as medicines. On the other hand, supporters of homeopathy respond that health professionals criticize the method for “ignorance”.
“Let’s be clear: pseudosciences kill.”
This is the message that unites 2,750 health professionals from 44 countries (90% of them health workers and scientists from various disciplines).
The “1st manifesto against pseudosciences in health”, signed by this mass of professionals, raises the discussion about regulations against products that do not have proven therapeutic efficacy with scientific rigor.
“They sell sugar to the sick and make them believe that it can cure them or improve their health. It has already caused deaths and will continue to do so,” says the manifesto addressed particularly to European Union regulators on alternative therapeutic products traditional medicines.
A problem that, say the signatories of the document, is replicated anywhere in the world.
“All regions are vulnerable, all countries and all people,” Chilean epidemiologist María Paz Bertoglia told BBC News Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish-language service.
“There are often very loose regulations between countries because special authorizations are allowed for some products that demonstrate that they are non-toxic, but that do not demonstrate effectiveness,” he adds.
Health professionals point to homeopathy, for example, as the “best known pseudotherapy”, but warn that there are other “alternative medicine” practices that are gaining popularity.
“There is a lot of ignorance about homeopathy,” replies Rosario Sánchez Caballero, director of the Mexican homeopathy civil association, who says that behind this type of manifesto, there are usually “major commercial interests of pharmaceutical laboratories”.
What does the manifest say?
In addition to considering these methods as a farce, the manifesto warns that treatments that are not scientifically proven only delay the proper care to patients. “Often, when they get to the medicine, it’s too late.”
“Pseudotherapies that are born on one continent move to another very easily. They know no borders,” says biologist Fernando Cervera, coordinator of the manifesto.
“If one wants to think that in the past this (alternative) medicine was effective, one has to realize that 100 years ago life expectancy did not exceed 30 or 40 years, and today it goes from 70 to 80 years. Access to modern scientific medicine is what makes the difference in doubling life expectancy “, warns Cervera.
Against ‘miracle products’
For the signatories of the manifesto, part of the responsibility for the control of health products lies with Organs regulatory bodies, which end up allowing the commercialization of alternative medicines at a level equivalent to the drugs with proven effectiveness by science.
Signed mostly by professionals from Europe, in addition to 59 from Latin America, the manifesto presents a dozen cases of people who died after resorting to alternative treatments.
“Jacqueline Alderslade, 55, was instructed by her homeopath to stop her asthma medication. She died in Ireland,” says the document.
He points out that in Europe alone there are more than 150 pseudotherapies, used by millions of people.
“Only in a world where we considered that lying to a patient to obtain his money was ethical, could we allow homeopathy, or any other pseudo-therapy, to continue to be sold to citizens,” says the manifesto.
“We often see products that are suitable for everything, for hundreds of diseases, but that have never been tested by science. The regulations have to be clearer. They need to be approved by what is required from a common medicine, which has to go through stricter rules. Pseudo-therapies only need to prove that they are not toxic “, says Bertoglia.
Cervera recalls that, in the case of Europe, laws allow homeopathy products to be marketed as therapeutic, “although no homeopathic product has been shown to be effective”, and the same occurs with the offer of biomagnetism, doses of MMS (Miracle Mineral Supplement, or miracle mineral supplement, in Portuguese) and other products.
“Do they use the name of science? That’s why they call themselves pseudosciences? To sell a product to the public and make people believe that it is scientifically proven, that it passed all the controls that a common medicine has to pass, but that is not true “, alert.
Sánchez Caballero, of the Civil Association of Homeopathy in Mexico, says that to point to homeopathy as pseudoscience is to speak with “ignorance”. According to her, homeopathy certifications are recognized by the governments of each country.
“Homeopath is an official profession in Mexico and other countries. If the government gives them an official character, it is because homeopathy has proved to be a serious and scientific medicine. Doctors reject it without knowledge,” he says.
“When a homeopathic medicine is effective, it is because we get the results after tests, in healthy people, with a control group. Then we test it again and we get the same results. This is one of the conditions of the scientific method: the hypothesis is confirmed”, says Sánchez Caballero.
However, government health officials, such as the United States National Institute of Health, say that “there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific health condition”.
The equivalent body in the UK has a similar stance: “There is no quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health problem.”
The right to choose
The manifesto recognizes that patients have the right to choose the type of treatment they wish to receive, whether in conventional medicine or outside it.
However, he rejects the fact that there are unfounded promises of healing and lack of ethics from those who promote therapies that are not scientifically proven.
“We are not judging patients, they are often desperate, because they have a child with a very serious disease. The judgment we make is against who sells these products, which must be regulated,” says Bertoglia.
On the side of homeopathy, however, Sánchez Caballero guarantees that those accredited in this method usually inform patients when there is no possibility of cure. “We say we will try, but they may not be cured. This is tested individually.”
“The patient has to check where he is going and if the doctor (homeopath) has a title and a certificate to support him”, he adds.
Bertoglia also acknowledges that the population’s confidence in traditional medicine has recently declined.
“We also have to do a great deal of reflection on why people are choosing to use these products. Often, doctors are very disconnected from the needs of the population. We need to build more bridges,” he says.
“Often, when someone makes use of these treatments or pseudotherapies, the person needs is someone who listens to them, someone who understands them, a closer relationship. And that’s what we have to reflect on,” he adds.