The World Health Organization [WHO] has responded to a call from young medics and said that it DOES NOT recommend the use of homeopathy for treating HIV, TB, malaria, influenza and infant diarrhea. In an open letter to the WHO in June of this year, the group of early career medics and researchers from the UK and Africa asked the body to make clear that homeopathy cannot prevent or treat these serious diseases despite its growing promotion by manufacturers and practitioners. The Director General's office has confirmed that the responses from WHO departments (below) "clearly express the WHO's position." Today the Voice of Young Science [VYS] network, who coordinated the letter, has written to the health ministers of all countries to publicise the WHO's position, asking them to combat the promotion of homeopathy for these dangerous diseases.

Comments from the WHO:

Dr Mario Raviglione, Director, Stop TB Department, WHO: "Our evidence-based WHO TB treatment/management guidelines, as well as the International Standards of Tuberculosis Care (ISTC) do not recommend use of homeopathy."

Dr Mukund Uplekar, TB Strategy and Health Systems, WHO: "WHO's evidence-based guidelines on treatment of tuberculosis...have no place for homeopathic medicines."

Dr Teguest Guerma, Director Ad Interim, HIV/AIDS Department, WHO: "The WHO Dept. of HIV/AIDS invests considerable human and financial resources [... ] to ensure access to evidence-based medical information and to clinically proven, efficacious, and safe treatment for HIV... Let me end by congratulating the young clinicians and researchers of Sense About Science for their efforts to ensure evidence-based approaches to treating and caring for people living with HIV."

Dr Sergio Spinaci, Associate Director, Global Malaria Programme, WHO: "Thanks for the amazing documentation and for whistle blowing on this issue... The Global Malaria programme recommends that malaria is treated following the WHO Guidelines for the Treatment of Malaria".

Joe Martines, on behalf of Dr Elizabeth Mason, Director, Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development, WHO: "We have found no evidence to date that homeopathy would bring any benefit to the treatment of diarrhoea in children...Homeopathy does not focus on the treatment and prevention of dehydration - in total contradiction with the scientific basis and our recommendations for the management of diarrhoea."

In one way, it's remarkable that statements like these need to be made. As one of the scientists associated with VYS pointed out, it's one thing for homeopaths to go after gullible people on Park Avenue with a case of the sniffles. Repugnant, sure, but at least they're not interfering with the medical treatment of dying children in developing nations. That's a whole other kind of bad, and massive kudos are due to the brave young brains of VYS for recognizing an outrage when they see one.

But how could they not? Many of the VYS scientists are entrenched in those developing nations, doing their damndest to help people while dealing with those superstitions already extant in the populace. They do not need the added distractions of homeopaths pushing their wares and worldviews, promising miracle cures with no ill effects. Unlike in the United States or Europe, where even skeptics can afford to regard alternative "medicine" and fringe scientists as semi-urgent problems, bad science in the developing world can result in disasters of world-historic scope. As the great Raymond Tallis said in a comment attached to the VYS' letter:

The catastrophic consequences of promoting irrational and ineffective treatments for serious illnesses have been demonstrated in South Africa, where Thabo Mbeki's policies have led to an estimated 365,000 unnecessary premature deaths. The prospect of replicating this reckless behaviour elsewhere in developing countries by advocating homoeopathic treatments for AIDs and other potentially lethal conditions is appalling. I hope that the timely intervention by the Voice of Young Science Network will help to pre-empt a public health disaster. It illustrates the importance of young scientists, torchbearers for a better future, taking a stand and speaking out.

Tallis' allusions to Mbeki's disastrous AIDS denialism are entirely appropriate, given the size of the problem the young scientists are confronting. According to their letter to WHO:

  • In Kenya, the largest homeopathic supplier, the Abha Light Foundation sells homeopathic medicines for malaria, diarrhoea and influenza. It now runs 20 health centres, 25 mobile clinics and five HIV/AIDS clinics.

  • In Tanzania, Jeremy Sherr and Sigsbert Rwegasira run three homeopathic clinics and claim to have government support to establish a school of homeopathy. Rwegasira claims to treat "no less than 100 malaria patients per day." According to Sherr's promotional material, "conventional medicine only supplies temporary relief, often at a great cost financially, and with many severe side effects".

  • In Ethiopia, the Amma Resonance Healing Foundation, run by Peter Chappell, offers to treat AIDS patients with "resonance healing in the form of homeopathy", as "an ideal alternative and complement for the treatment of HIV/AIDS in developing countries" because of "the very low costs of producing the remedy" and because it has "no side effects".

  • In Ghana, the Senya/Tamale Homeopathy Project treats malaria patients with homeopathy.

  • In Botswana, the Maun Homeopathy Project offers homeopathic treatment in several locations and mobile clinics for HIV related complaints such as herpes and diarrhoea "for those people who are HIV+ but who are not taking anti-retroviral drugs".

We at the JREF enthusiastically support and congratulate the Voice of Young Science network for having won such a resounding victory for reason. Unfortunately, some of the less-young scientists at the WHO seem determined to hurt as few homeopaths' feelings as possible. Note the carefully neutral language being used in the top segment of their response, and even in the comments below. The strongest statement anyone will make explicitly against homeopathy is noting its inability to effectively combat dehydration. Ironically, this is one of the few things some homeopathic remedies can treat, since it's all water...!

Some of the endorsements are luke-warm, as if the writers are trying to be politically correct by not even mentioning the word "homeopathy," and even stating that this quackery can be somewhat useful in some applications. It is not, and it represents one of the many pieces of misinformation that we at the JREF have battled for years now. Homeopathy is 100% nonsense, it doesn't work, and it costs lives.

We must add that we're very satisfied with the WHO censure of South Africa's official government support of quackery and their denial of facts - a stance that has cost some 365,000 lives in that country.

Unfortunately - and inexplicably, given points one through for of WHO's explicitly stated agenda - the World Health Organization has not yet deigned to publish its statement on its own website.