World Homeopathy Day: Under pressure elsewhere, homeopathy prospers in India

Sweet little pill fights bitter battle with Big Pharma

Business

April 10, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

World Homeopathy Day: Under pressure elsewhere, homeopathy prospers in India

There are over 300,000 homeopathic doctors in India and about 100 million users of homeopathy (MIG photos: Aman Kanojiya)

Homeopathy has been under attack in a few nations like Spain, Australia, Russia and some European countries that call it unscientific and ineffective. However, in India, one of its biggest markets, the medicinal system is set to receive a further boost with new research guidelines issued by the government today that make homeopathic research and trials more evidence-based.

To mark the World Homeopathy Day, Central Council for Research in Homeopathy, the regulator of India’s third most popular treatment system, will issue new guidelines governing quality of homeopathy research in the country. “These guidelines will bring the norms being followed in India at par with international recommendations. So, researchers are expected to go through these guidelines and follow them,” Dr Anil Khurana, director general of the Central Council of Research in Homeopathy, the regulator of the system in India tells Media India Group.

The guidelines will bring more scientific evidence into the research and trials associated with homeopathy and they will also emphasise evidence-based methodologies in research today, says Dr Khurana. “Most of our researchers and post-graduate students are not well aware of these ethical and evidence-based biomedical research guidelines. This document will help them take up proper trials. These guidelines existed for Unani and Ayurveda but not for homeopathy, so now we have come up with them,” he says.

The updated research guidelines, with science and evidence-based trials at their heart, take head on the general criticism that has been flung on homeopathy being ineffective or unscientific and without any evidence.

“The new guidelines will go a long way in addressing the criticism of homeopathy that it is not evidence based and hence unscientific,” says Dr V K Khanna, who has been a practitioner of homeopathy since 1971 in New Delhi and was also the principal of Nehru Homeopathic Medical College in the capital.

Dr Khanna says that homeopathy has been under attack by allopathy for a long while and that there is a strong commercial angle to this battle. “The allopathic pharmaceutical industry is very powerful and very rich. They make a lot of money through their drugs which are overpriced and they don’t want to see people turning to other systems of medicines like homeopathy as they will lose their profits,” he says.

In fact, over the last decade or so, homeopathy has been under severe attack in Europe, where it was born nearly 210 years ago. While as much as 60 pc of the French population reportedly uses homoeopathy, from this year onwards, the French government will end public support for medicines under the system. The same is the fate of the medicine across the Channel in the neighbouring United Kingdom. And in Spain, the homeopathy faces a blanket ban on the entire system for being ‘dangerous and unethical’.

The health agencies of the US and Britain — the Department of Health and Human Services and Britain’s National Health Service, respectively—both state clearly on their websites that the purported effectiveness of homoeopathy is not backed by research. Similarly, national medical and health bodies in Russia and Australia have also warned against homoeopathy.

And even though the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that homeopathy is currently the second largest system of medicine in the world, it discourages its use for treatment of serious diseases, and has called for quality control and regulation of homoeopathy to avoid lethal consequences.

Homeopathy gains ground in India

Even though it is under attack elsewhere in the world, the system continues to advance in India, where it came in early 19th century soon after the invention in Germany. First homeopaths came to the then capital of British India, Calcutta and soon enough the practice spread across Bengal. Over years it found followers in other parts of the country as well. Incidentally, the first homeopathic college in India was set up in Calcutta in 1881 and the Calcutta Homeopathic Medical College played a stellar role in popularising the practice in India.

Over the years, with more colleges being set up the number of practitioners also rose and today there are close to 300,000 practitioners all over India, while each year another 13,000 aspirants join the 165-odd recognised homeopathic medical colleges in the country.

Some estimates say that the number of users of homeopathy stands at close to 100 million, or about 7 pc of the country’s population. Most users of homeopathy also end up with other medicinal systems, notably allopathy and Ayurveda, depending upon the ailment.

Toshi Karan, a 30-year-old teacher in Kolkata is a good example of a typical homeopathy user in India. When she began facing menstruation problems, first she tried allopathic options but after a while as they proved ineffective, she turned to her family’s homeopathic doctor and since then she has given up allopathic treatment for the issue. Karan’s family, especially her mother, has been a regular user of homeopathy. “Over 35 years ago, while my mother was studying in her college, she developed a severe case of eczema and she went for allopathic consultations hoping to get immediate relief. However, when the strong drugs exacerbated her problems, she turned to homeopathy. Sure enough, within a few months the ailment was entirely cured. Since then, she has been a big fan of homeopathy and over the years she has turned to homeopathy for most of her chronic ailments, notably any skin allergy, palpitations as well as for relief from rheumatic pains,” says Karan.

Slow but effective

For most users, especially long-time followers like the Karan family in Kolkata, for any ailment that is not life threatening, homeopathy is the system to turn to. Most of them experience severe side effects of allopathic drugs before turning to the softer, but slower, system that does not provide immediate relief but is effective in rooting the problem out for good and without any side-effects. “If it pertains to skin ailments or other such chronic conditions then she would turn to homeopathy, which is no doubt effective and does not have any side effects. So for the long run, homeopathy is better,” says Karan.

The experience of Karans holds true for most users of homeopathy in India, says Dr Khanna of New Delhi. “People in India appreciate homeopathy. After allopathy the first line of treatment that anybody wants is homeopathy. That is only because of the plus points. In allopathy, there is an overemphasis on pathological changes, even though the science of pathology is changing every day. Also, in many diseases, even though the doctors can see pathological changes, they are not able to explain what causes it. In homeopathy the approach is different. Our belief is that first the disease manifestations come in sensations and the pathological changes will come later. Homeopathy is prescribed on the basis of symptoms. This leads to improvement in immunity and defence mechanism. The patient recovers through this. Moreover, in homeopathy, there are no side effects and no toxicity. What else does one want?” asks Dr Khanna. He goes on to say ironically even many of his allopathic doctor friends consult him for their own ailments.

While homeopathy does not face any existential questions in India, the new research guidelines being issued today would go a long way in convincing the sceptics in India and overseas and give the small, sweet pill its revenge in the bitter battle with the Big Pharma.

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