18 May 2010
By Pushpa Narayan
The characterisation of homeopathy as witchcraft by the British Medical Association has sparked a similar debate on the system of medicine in India where it has a considerable patronage.
Senior doctors and scientists say it’s now time for the union health ministry to withdraw all forms of support, including recognition of homeopathy medical colleges for the “unscientific medical” stream. While the Central Council for Homeopathy vehemently denies any form of criticism, doctors’ bodies are now planning to challenge the ministry to show evidence that it is ineffective.
“Many scientists have said it is humbug. We don’t say that about all alternative streams,” says PM Bharghava, former vice–chairman of National Knowledge Commission. “In fact, we have been recommending research on streams like Ayurveda and Siddha because these have shown evidence. I am glad doctors in the UK are making a noise about it. But the department of homeopathy should be pulled out of the health ministry,” he said.
Members of the Indian Medical Association argue that by allowing streams like homeopathy that the ministry has failed to abide by the principle that its policies should be evidence–based. There is no robust evidence that homeopathy is effective, they argue. “Research has showed that homeopathy works no better than placebo. They believe dilution of the vital ingredient puts better fight with infections, which defies logic,” said Dr George Thomas, editor, Indian Journal of Medical Ethics.
Homeopaths disagree. “A tiny dose of a substance linked to the cause of the malady is diluted to an almost negligible quantity. Water retains the memory of the substance. And what apparently defies logic may not always be something impossible. Logic too is subjective,” says Chennai–based senior homeopath Dr S Baskaran.
Central Council for Homeopathy secretary Dr Lalit Vema said homeopathy had been recognised in India since 1973. “We have 186 medical colleges and over 35 PG centres. Why do our doctors have to question scientific evidence now? If they say human beings are cured by placebo what about studies on plants and animals? Do they have placebo effect too?,” he said.
Homeopathy has found support among some allopaths too. “Just because we don’t know something it is unfair to say it is unscientific. I have seen patients getting relief with homeopathy,” said Bangalore–based senior cardiac surgeon Dr Devi Prasad Shetty, who heads Narayana Hrudayala. Doctors’ associations like the state wing of the Tamil Nadu State Medical Council said they would write to the Centre.
“Homeopathic preparations may not kill patients but when medicines do not do the needful during a crisis, it does amount to killing,” said Dr K Prakasam, president of the TN medical Council.
Caught In A Controversy
What is Homeopathy?
A form of alternative medicine–was first proposed by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796. The treatment is given with heavily diluted preparations and works on the principle called law of similars. That is preparations which cause certain symptoms in healthy individuals are given as the treatment for patients exhibiting similar symptoms.
Homeopathy has been practiced for several years. Many people take homeopathic medicines
What defies logic need not be untrue.Patients have been cured of various ailments. Studies on plants and animals show good cure rates. Plants and animals don’t have placebo effect. Placebo effect is the measurable improvement in health not attributed to taking medicines
It has no scientific evidence
Homeopathy medicines defies logic as they say dilution increases strength.Cure is just placebo effect