Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Integrating Homoeopathy in Health Systems

Academic journal article Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Integrating Homoeopathy in Health Systems

Article excerpt

Voir page 165 le resume en francais. En la pagina 165 figura un resumen en espanol.

Homoeopathy celebrated the 200th anniversary of its existence in 1996. On that occasion Germany's Health Minister, Horst Seehofer, stated that its success could not "be denied, even though this has often been attempted", and that "homoeopathic products should always be able to prove their efficacy" (1). At a congress of the International Homeopathic Medical Organization in 1994, WHO's Medical Officer for Traditional Medicines, Dr X. Zhang, referred to the integration of homoeopathy into the national health systems of numerous countries such as Germany, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom (2). She described its characteristics as approaching the patient holistically, prescribing medication that stimulates the spontaneous defence mechanism of the body, and using a minimum dose of the active agent. On the latter point, Dr Zhang noted: "There is no doubt about the safety of homoeopathy because the medical substances have been extremely diluted in homoeopathy drugs. Yet there is still great concern about the clinical efficacy. The mechanism of homoeopathy has not yet been verified in modern medical terms."

The situation reported is one often observed during exchanges between homoeopathic organizations and national and international health authorities: the keen interest in homoeopathy shown by the general public in many countries, the abiding inadequacy of research findings, and expectations of progress from international cooperative efforts.

Historical background and definition

The relations between homoeopathy and Western medical systems are complex. The latter can be characterized as a mechanistic and physiopathological approach to pharmacology based on chemicals or plants and one that is biological and clinically experimental. To understand these relations we should go back to 1796, when Hahnemann published his Essay on a new principle for discovering the curative virtues of medicinal substances, which laid the foundations of the therapeutic approach that was to take the name homoeopathy (3). After describing the theoretical concepts underlying treatment practices of his time, he introduced the basic ideas of the new curative technique: a treatment approach specific to each and every form taken by a condition, the double and inverse effect of medicaments, and therapeutic action due to the similarity of symptoms between those of the artificial condition they induce and those of the "natural" condition observed in the patient. To arrive at a practical application of the symptomatology inherent in each medicament, Hahnemann, his disciples and successors went on to use three sources of information:

* experimentation on healthy individuals with subtoxic doses initially, followed by very weak doses;

* the toxicological and pharmacological knowledge of the period;

* the results of therapeutic observations.

That pharmacological approach, though original, did not lead to a break with the orthodox medicine and pharmacology of the times, and there were many who followed Trousseau in recognizing that the homoeopathic medical discipline formed thereby contained "highly valuable approaches to the special properties of drugs", though it was not free from "systematic illusions" in its experimental work. It had therefore all the interest of a precise semiology but was also dogged by the problem of how to sift through myriads of symptoms of often dubious origin. This is a fair assessment, and many modern practitioners would agree with it.

The difficulty does not arise in the concept of similarity as applied to therapy, a concept which effectively describes "the medicine of similars". Hahnemann admittedly was far too dogmatic about the concept when he made Similia similibus curantur a universal taw. We feel that the subjunctive curantur he also used on occasion (3) is more suited to what is in fact a working hypothesis for pharmacology, and can be expressed in numerous ways that are entirely compatible with the contemporary biological approach, particularly for immunology and allergology. …

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