The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned against the use of homeopathy for the treatment of HIV, TB, malaria, influenza and infant diarrhoea. Scientists and medics around the world have welcome WHO’s clear position. Early career scientists in the UK have previously appealed to the WHO to formally condemn the use of homeopathic treatment for these five serious diseases. This appeal aims at discouraging the use of inappropriate medication when people’s lives are at risk. The WHO currently works in partnership with many organisations promoting homeopathy or alternative treatment in developing countries.

Homeopathy is presented as a safe, natural and long term treatment for various illnesses. The basis of homeopathy lies in the beliefs that:

  1. substances causing the same symptoms as the disease to be treated can effectively cure people, and
  2. an over-diluted dose of the substance reduces its potential to harm and becomes very effective for healing.

However, scientific investigations have not proven these claims, but rather show that homeopathy merely acts as a placebo.

Placebos (from the latin I will please) are inert prescriptions which can induce physiological changes. The belief that the patient is receiving treatment is what brings relief to him. However, the placebo effect simply alleviates the symptoms of the disease and is by no way a cure. Homeopathy cannot thus cure serious diseases, such as HIV, TB, malaria, flu and diarrhoea.

Promoting irrational and ineffective treatments for these serious illnesses can lead to catastrophic consequences. This has been demonstrated in South Africa, where Thabo Mbeki’s reckless policy has led to an estimated 365,000 premature deaths. Advocating homeopathy for AIDS and flu in place of proper treatment is unethical, since homeopathy is no replacement for effective medication developed through rigorous clinical trials.