PM says using homeopathy to treat Ebola is mad
Prime Minister John Key has dismissed a Green MP's suggestion that health officials should consider homeopathic remedies to treat the deadly Ebola virus as "barking mad".
Green Party MP Steffan Browning made the suggestion, regarding World Health Organisation (WHO) options for treating Ebola, while acknowledging "some people will see it as wacky".
This week Browning signed an online petition on Change.org, which calls for the WHO to end the suffering of the Ebola crisis by testing and distributing homeopathy as quickly as possible to contain the outbreaks.
Homeopathy is a system of alternative medicine, based on a doctrine of “like cures like”, which means the patient is treated with a very diluted form of the substance causing the symptoms of the disease - in this case, a diluted version of the Ebola virus.
Key said he thought the idea was "barking mad".
"Let's be honest, this is a serious global issue, and if he really thinks that's the answer I'd love to see the medical research."
Browning said “it was probably a bit unwise” to sign the petition, which he also shared on his Facebook page encouraging other people to sign it.
He had signed the petition “pretty late at night”, and said he “probably dropped” from the standards expected of a member of Parliament in doing so.
Browning repeatedly said he was not opposed to homeopathy, which he had used himself, and said it had seemingly been effective in treating one of his children in the past.
He refused to comment on whether he thought it could help treat Ebola, saying that was a matter for world health authorities.
But as the WHO did not “appear to have an instant cure” for the deadly disease, Browning hoped it would keep an open mind on potential treatment options.
“They will be considering, I hope, absolutely every possible option to this very concerning disease.’’
When asked if that included homeopathy as an option, Browning said: “why not?”
“Some people will see it as wacky for sure, they will.
“I think it’s really good for people to not be narrow-minded and to be open to that, and allow those people that choose to use it, to use it.”
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said treating Ebola patients with homeopathic remedies was “a wacko idea”.
“I don’t know what he’s thinking, it’s very, very dangerous.
“I think he really needs to engage his brain, it’s a really and stupid dangerous idea.”
The organiser of the online petition Fran Sheffield said homeopathy had “a proven track record of treating and preventing serious epidemic diseases,” including dengue fever, malaria, and Japanese encephalitis.
“The appropriate homeopathic medicine (remedy) is likely to be just as effective against the Ebola virus,” she said.
Homeopathic remedies were “quick to produce in large quantities, inexpensive, easily distributed, and have an excellent safety profile.”
They were “ideally suited to the difficulties and constraints of Ebola-affected countries,” Sheffield said on the petition.
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the petition did not reflect the position of the Green Party, and agreed it was unwise of Browning to have signed it.
"I've spoken with Steffan about that and I didn't agree with him on signing that petition," Norman said.
"The Green Party approach of course is to take an evidence based approach and leave it to the experts at the WHO about making sure we deal with issues like Ebola."
He said he accepted that many New Zealanders did chose to use homeopathy.
"But I think even they would say it's not the right thing to use for Ebola."
The death toll from the current Ebola outbreak has risen to 4,922 out of 10,141 recorded infections, with three West African countries accounting for most of the cases, according to the World Health Organisation.
No antiviral medications have proved effective in treating the Ebola virus, and experimental vaccines and treatments under development have not yet been fully tested.
The petition has reached 5,000 signatures.