UK Public 2 – 0 Homeopaths

4 06 2009

I’ve recently come across a couple of cases here in England in which homeopathy supporters have had to make public and embarrassing climbdowns, a Good Thing in my book. The first is from last year but may not have received much coverage in NZ.

Neal’s Yard Remedies is a fairly large chain of stores selling “organic skin and body care and natural remedies” – they have 52 outlets worldwide and sell their products in many more including some of the UK’s biggest pharmacists. They are also, unsurprisingly, pretty keen on homeopathy. However perhaps not quite so keen as they used to be.

Recently it came to light that they were selling a couple of homeopathic remedies advertised as being malarial prophylactics. Now it’s one thing to claim homeopathy might cure your hay fever or stop dandruff, but it’s quite another to claim it will stop you getting malaria. Every year malaria kills over a million people and up to 500 million people are affected by it. That’s a pretty serious disease. The BBC’s ‘Inside Out’ programme took it upon themselves to investigate why Neal’s Yard were able to sell such products – the clip is below.

The best bit is at around 5 minutes in, where Susan Curtis, Neal’s Yard’s medicine director tries to justify the chain selling the anti-malaria remedies. Her reasoning is akin to the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa convinces Homer to buy a rock that wards off bears (or possibly tigers, something with big teeth and claws anyway). ‘How do I know it works’ asks Homer? ‘Well, you don’t see any bears around here do you’? Sold!

Curtis claiming that the remedies work because she used them when she went to India and didn’t get malaria is priceless. She couldn’t even say whether she was bitten by a malarial mosquito – then gets the hump and walks out of the interview. Not much of an advocate for Neal’s Yard. As a side note I’ve just been in India for six months, took absolutely no anti-malarial medication at all (perhaps foolishly) and also didn’t get malaria. I’m not sure what Curtis would make of that.

The upshot? Neal’s Yard were found to be acting illegally and were forced to remove the two remedies from their shelves, although scarily they had been available for the last twenty years!

The second case involved The University of Westminster in London being forced to scrap it’s BSc degree in Homeopathy. Now I was fairly amazed they even offered such a course but apparently they did, partly justifying it by claiming a third of teaching involved detailed biomedical studies. It attracted a fair amount of flak from others in the academic world but not enough for the course to be stopped. In fact what killed it off finally was the encouraging fact they just couldn’t get enough students signed up to justify running it. Reason for optimism indeed!

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