Homeopaths without borders
There are a number of international organizations with the title “ … without borders,” most notably Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières.) It is a humanitarian organization, founded in Paris France in 1971. This Nobel laureate organization has been sending doctors and their staffs around the world to provide health care where none is available. They go to treat extremely dangerous diseases such a Ebola and in extremely dangerous places such as active war zones.
Contrast that with Homeopaths Without Borders, who describe themselves as a humanitarian organization who travel to treat a relatively innocuous disease with sham treatments. Understanding just how preposterous Homeopathy is requires a little background. Before the time of modern medicine, treatments and drugs frequently were more dangerous than the illness itself. As just one example of many, George Washington died from bleeding to death – on purpose. He wasn’t supposed to die but he was being bled as a cure for what ailed him. You take out the bad blood and you get better, right?
Homeopathy was created by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796 (Washington died in 1799.) This medical modality was based on his idea of the law of similars. Substances that cause symptoms in “normal doses” can cure those same symptoms when given in infinitesimally small doses. One “drug” in the homeopathic pharmacopoeia is Nux vomica. A normal dose will make your stomach hurt (and then kill you) as this stuff is strychnine. A tiny dose however is supposed to be a cure for stomach aches.
A classic example of a homeopathic treatment is Oscillococcinum. This flu remedy is made from the liver of a duck. It is ground, dissolved in water, and then that water is diluted with ten times as much water. Take this water and dilute it ten fold. Do this 400 times.
For all practical purposes there is nothing left of the original preparation, only water. The water can be used directly or is added to chalk and evaporated. There is absolutely no chemical or biological reason that these treatments would have any effect at all.
Because there is nothing in these remedies, they can do no direct harm. Before modern medicine this alone could be beneficial to replace the use of dangerous things like blood letting. In this day and age however the substitution of magical thinking for real, efficacious treatments is not only unethical, but also dangerous.
Homeopaths Without Borders is currently working in Haiti to “treat” a disease known as Chikungunya, a viral infection spread by mosquitoes. The symptoms of infection are mild and flu-like with a moderate fever. Many of those infected have no symptoms at all. The condition usually resolves itself in a matter of days. Homeopaths treat this disease with another extremely diluted nostrum. The homeopathic treatment does nothing good, bad, or otherwise and the disease resolves itself.
One may ask what’s the harm? The harm is that unsuspecting individuals see that a disease exists, a treatment is employed and the disease goes away. The conclusion is homeopathy works. It doesn’t. One may in the future be led to the idea that substitution of cheap homeopathic treatments can replace more expensive drugs that actually do have an effect. They can’t.
Homeopathy falls in the realm of what some call alternative medicine. Why alternative medicine? Because it it worked it would be called medicine.