Anger as leeches sold as cure for cancer and Parkinson's disease, despite MedSafe complaint
A leech therapist's claimed cure for cancer and Parkinson's disease is being slammed by medical specialists as "witchcraft" from a "charlatan".
Mehdi Jaffari has rooms on Auckland's North Shore where he offers leech therapy and travels overseas to provide training for those wanting to learn more about his craft.
Eighteen months ago a complaint was made to the Minister of Health about Mehdi's medical claims.
However, it was only after an investigation by Stuff that he was told on Friday to stop advertising and selling leeches.
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In 2015 Maria Lupton, who breeds and sells medical grade leeches to hospitals around the country, raised the issue with the Health Minister. She was so worried about Mehdi's claims that she refused to sell him leeches. Maria knows very well that leeches have their place in hospitals to assist with blood flow in skin grafts and small body parts that are re-attached after an accident.
At the time she was told by the Minister's office that Medsafe – which is responsible for regulating therapeutic products – would investigate and get back to her.
Meanwhile, Mehdi's clinic continued and he collected his own leech supply that is kept in a pond to use on his clients at a cost of about 55 dollars per leech – five or six are used in every treatment. He promises cancer and Parkinson's patients that his therapy will not only treat but cure some of them – as long as they don't have medical interventions such as chemotherapy or medication.
"Leeches have over 100 enzymes and when they attach themselves they inject it. When a patient comes to see me with Parkinson's their shaking improves after 2-3 hours and after a few more treatments the shaking stops. Not many people around the world know much about the leeches. This is one of the miracle creatures God has given to us."
Mehdi believed there were very few clinical trials because it was expensive. It would cost him more than $80,000 to register leeches as a medicine in New Zealand, he said.
Medsafe rang him on Friday. "I am allowed to do leech therapy in my clinic but not advertise as it is not registered. I don't have any advertisements but people come to see me from New Zealand and overseas."
However, outside his clinic is a sign about medical leeches, and his website also promotes it.
He remained adamant leech therapy could cure strokes, head injuries and Parkinson's disease.
This claim disgusted Parkinson's specialist Dr Mark Simpson who said potentially vulnerable people might not be getting the truth. "Parkinson's is a demanding illness and this type of witchcraft is adding insult to injury ... I think he's a charlatan."
Dr Wayne Jones, a general, breast and oncology surgeon, agreed. "There is absolutely no scientific rationale or evidence for leech therapy to be of any benefit at all to women with breast cancer. It would be very dangerous to stop chemotherapy for such alternative treatment."
A plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Middlemore hospital, Dr Zac Moaveni, who uses leeches said they were extremely beneficial, but only for certain medical situations. "It makes no sense that by blood letting you can cure any sort of disease."
Despite this, Mehdi said he would challenge the medical specialists who didn't believe he was genuine. "I am doing the surgery without the knife. If they think I can't do it they are welcome. They can bring the people with the wheelchairs, stroke patients – anything. Bring them over to see who is right, who is wrong."
However, it is not just doctors he is up against. It's legislation as well. Medsafe told Mehdi's company in 2015 that it didn't have consent to sell and advertise its product. Compliance manager Derek Fitzgerald said Mehdi implied that the company would formally apply to seek consent. Medsafe received no further complaints so deemed the issue low-risk. "After further contact Mehdi indicated its website was primarily for Australia and it did not sell leeches in New Zealand and that it provided only a very limited treatment service. Medsafe also sent the company formal notification that it appeared to breach the Medicines Act by selling and advertising its leech treatment and advised it to cease all sales of the product and withdrawal all related advertising."
- Sunday Star Times