India has built its first virology laboratory dedicated to finding homeopathic solutions to diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever and chikungunya.
Shripad Yesso Naik, Union Minister for Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), presided over the opening ceremony of the state-of-the art laboratory at Kolkata’s Dr Anjali Chatterjee Regional Research Institute for Homeopathy (RRIH).
The laboratory, constructed at a cost of Rs 8 crore (80 million), is to house the research activities of the homeopathy PhD students of Calcutta University. West Bengal’s National Institute of Homeopathy (NIH) and RRIH are to collaborate in the training of these students in viral research.
While homeopathy is highly popular in India, the decision to invest Rs 8 crore into a homeopathic viral research laboratory is controversial. Homeopathic treatments such as yoga and the use of spices such as turmeric (known for its anti-inflammatory properties) may work well for minor illnesses that would not necessarily require the intervention of modern medicine. However, to apply homeopathic treatment to potentially deadly viruses could needlessly endanger lives.
Homeopathy is widely, and vocally disputed by doctors and scientists the world over. As previously noted in a Health Issues India article the British government defunded homeopathy as part of the National Health Service (NHS) earlier this year, citing the consensus in the health and scientific communities that it is not effective and that funds are better allocated elsewhere.
This sentiment is echoed across most of the world. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission requires that all homeopathic medicines state on their packaging that any reported benefits of the treatment are not backed by scientific evidence. In Russia, their attitude to homeopathy is far less subtle. The Russian Academy of Sciences has stated that homeopathy is a pseudoscience, considering it to be “on par with magic”.
India itself has had trouble and arrests related to independent practitioners of homeopathy. In January for example, a mother-daughter duo were arrested in relation to six deaths resulting from a liquor produced from a homeopathic medicine that usually contains ethyl alcohol. The batch that they had been provided with however was instead found to contain 90 percent methanol, a highly toxic compound. It was unknown whether more homeopathic treatments had been tainted with methanol.
The true danger of focusing on homeopathic medicine, especially with regard to treatment of viruses, is that it may discourage people from using clinically tested treatments, potentially reducing immunisation coverage rates. This could lead to viruses spreading far faster throughout the population in India, particularly in close quarter urban areas.
India’s public health system, meanwhile, languishes as funding remains at just 1.4 percent (with a promise of an increase to 2.5 percent in the National Health Policy 2017) of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Lack of resources forces Indians to pay for two thirds of all healthcare spending out of their own pockets which can prove economically ruinous. This paints the funding boost for homeopathy in an even worse light.
The government is doing everything possible to make India a world leader in homeopathic research, Shripad Naik. India is likely already the leading country in homeopathy, as few nations – especially ones at India’s level of economic development – see it necessary to research an area of alternative medicine with no proven benefits. This world-leading position could therefore be maintained without an Rs 8 crore investment that could be better allocated elsewhere.