Believing homeopathy remedies related to COVID19 peddled by Indian Government and circulating in social media may be dangerous.
What is Homoeopathy?
Homeopathy is an old method to ‘treat’ diseases based on the concept that highly diluted substances can heal body from diseases. In England, a 2010 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on homeopathy established that homeopathy remedies are no better than placebos or dummy treatments. The fundamental idea of homeopathy comes from Samuel Hahnemann who developed the subject in 1790s in Germany. Many homeopathic remedies are made of substances which have been diluted in water until they are almost nothing but water.
In the past year of pandemic, Indian Government has suggested Yoga, Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and pseudoscience such as Homeopathy. As the Homeopathy and the medicines involved in it sound very much like a real science, many people started getting homeopathy medicines to prevent and cure COVID19. Indian government endorsed the process, making the COVID scenario worse.
The ministry of AYUSH suggested a homeopathy medicine containing diluted arsenic.
The spread of falsehoods was so rampant that newspaper such as Deccan Herald published fact-checking articles naming “Homoeopathic drug ‘Arsenicum album 30’ can’t prevent coronavirus infection, as claimed by AYUSH Ministry.”
Does Homeopathy work?
To quote the National Health Services portal by the government of the United Kingdom,
“There’s been extensive investigation of the effectiveness of homeopathy. There’s no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition.”
In an article published in British Dental Journal, it is said that “The principles of homeopathy were created in 1796 and today rely on belief, not scientific evidence. ‘Homeopathy most of the time won’t contain any active ingredient,’ says David Shaw, bioethicist at the University of Basel, Switzerland. The extreme dilutions used often means no active molecules are detectable, which defies what we have learnt about biology since the seventeenth century. This would appear to place homeopathy clearly in the bad science box. ‘It makes false promises about its efficacy,’ says Shaw.”
Scientists have again and again debunked the myth of homeopathy. In 2002 a study published in British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology reviewed papers on homeopathy and concluded that “there was no homeopathic remedy that was demonstrated to yield clinical effects that are convincingly different from placebo.”
In 2015 a study sponsored by Australian government also debunked the so called “effectiveness” of homeopathy.
There is a large market in the US for homeopathic medicines. In 2007, it was estimated Americans spent more than three billion on homeopathy. The US government has made it mandatory for the producers of such items to make sure that if they wish to claim they are effective treatments, they need to make available the proof. Otherwise, they will need to specify on the label that there is “no scientific evidence that the product works”.
There is another major problem about homeopathy compared to other pseudoscience, homeopathy has its own endorsers. There are many journals devoted to these alternative medicines and the studies are either conducted on very small group of patients or the conclusion is argued in a superficial way. People who choose to believe in such pseudoscience, tend to provide these journals as proofs, making the separation of real and ‘fake’ science difficult.
Sometimes some journal may publish some article related to the success of the alternative medicine by mistake, and the believers spread that as wildfire. Such an incident happened, when Journal of Public Health: From Theory to Practice published an article named ‘Homeopathy combat against corona virus disease (Covid-19), in 2020.’ But the journal retracted the article saying “The Editor-in-Chief has retracted this article. Post publication peer review identified the lack of empirical data and then lack of testing of the proposed model as a severe limitation that invalidates the conclusions drawn in the article. The conclusion that epidemiological studies are needed to evaluate homeopathic treatment are not justified based on the model developed by the authors.”
What can we do?
First, we must stop being silent and legitimizing pseudoscience, especially if we are scientists or medical professionals. In social media and social chatting apps, we have to be vocal and create an army of debunkers and fact checkers. The conclusion that ‘pseudoscience such as homeopathy does not work’ should be established with no ambiguity but with sensitive and reasonable logic. It should never be implied that we are skeptical or agnostic.
Timothy Caulfield, research chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, writes, “There is some evidence that alternative treatments and placebo effects can relieve distress — a common justification for tolerating unproven alternative treatments. But it’s inappropriate to deceive people (even for their benefit) with magical thinking, and it is inappropriate for scientists to let such misinformation go unremarked.”
Secondly, it is often seen that these pseudoscience use terms borrowed from real science. If you are member of that real science community, you should debunk that myth. As an example, some pseudoscience believers tried to argue that quantum electrodynamics can prove how homeopathy works (I will not give the link. The interested reader should search.). If a physicist comes across such an argument in the family group chat or in a meme posted by a friend on social media, they should argue that no mathematical rigor is in the article and most of the arguments are vague.
If in the time of emergency such as lowering oxygen level, if people try to use homeopathic remedy it may be fatal. So, it is better to argue with your loved ones before you lose them.
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