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Homeopathy review sparks international debate

The Director of Bond University’s Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice (CREBP), Professor Paul Glasziou has sparked a spirited public debate as the chair of a recently released draft paper on the effectiveness of homeopathy.

Dr Glasziou was appointed by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to head a team who have examined more than 50 controlled trials of homeopathic treatments used to address a range of medical conditions including asthma, anxiety, chronic fatigue and rheumatoid arthritis.

The report’s conclusion that “the available evidence is not compelling and fails to demonstrate that homeopathy is an effective treatment for any of the reported clinical conditions in humans” has attracted widespread debate and commentary from conventional and alternative medicine practitioners, as well as various health associations.

“The key concern is that people who choose homeopathy instead of proven conventional treatments may put their health at risk if safe and evidence-based treatments are rejected or delayed in favour of homeopathic treatments,” said Dr Glasziou.

“Globally, homeopathy is one of the most extensively used forms of complementary and alternative medicine and is included in numerous publicly funded health care systems around the world.

“According to the latest available World Health Organisation figures, in 2008 Australians spent an estimated $AUD7.8 million on homeopathic medicines alone, not counting the costs of the consultations.

“In conducting the NHMRC review, however, we found that most of the primary studies conducted on homeopathic treatments were poorly designed, poorly conducted, small in size and insufficiently powered to detect a statistically significant outcome.

“The primary studies included in our review of the trials conducted examined the use of homeopathy for the treatment of 61 clinical conditions. In more than half of those situations, the trials involved less than 150 participants and in 56 of those 61 cases, we could only assign a low or very low level of confidence in the results they reported.

“As such, we had to conclude that there is a paucity of good quality studies that examine the effectiveness of homeopathy as a treatment for humans.”

The draft paper is now open for public consultation until May 26 but there has already been extensive commentary in the media, with coverage extending across print, television, radio and web-based news sites across Australia and in south-east Asia.

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