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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Thursday, 13 July 2006, 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK
Malaria advice 'risks lives'
By Meirion Jones
BBC Newsnight

Homeopath
Newsnight secretly filmed some homeopaths' advice

Some high street homeopaths claim they can prevent malaria, a Newsnight investigation has found.

Secret filming revealed homeopaths were claiming their preparations could be used instead of anti-malarial drugs to protect travellers in high risk areas such as sub-saharan Africa.

Dr Ron Behrens of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told Newsnight, "Sub Saharan Africa is a high risk of malaria. If they got it and they weren't immediately diagnosed and treated they could die and that claim would actually put their lives at risk."

Two million Britons are expected to visit malarial areas this year - including many young backpackers setting off the next few weeks; 2,000 will come back with malaria.

'Not effective'

People may even die of malaria if they follow this advice
Peter Fisher, director Royal London Homeopathic Hospital
Dr Behrens has treated patients who fell for the homeopaths claims "We've certainly had patients admitted to our unit with the malignant form of malaria who have been taking homeopathic remedies and without a doubt the reason that they were taking them and not effective drugs was the reason they had malaria."

The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital is run by doctors who are also homeopaths and who treat conditions such as hay fever and rheumatism. They are also furious that some homeopaths are making these false claims about malaria.

The hospital's Director Peter Fisher told Newsnight "I'm very angry about it because people are going to get malaria - there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won't find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice."

Many of those who contract malaria while on holiday are people who failed to take their medication because they dislike the side-effects. How many relied on homeopathic remedies is not known but they are reluctant to admit that to doctors when they return for fear of looking foolish.

Undercover

Mosquito
Every year 20 people die in the UK after contracting malaria abroad
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was so concerned that it got together with the scientific pressure group Sense about Science to organise a survey of 10 homeopathic practices.

They sent an undercover researcher in to say she was about to go in to a malaria infested country. They all recommended doses of homeopathic remedies - 99.99% water with an almost undetectable trace of effective remedies such as quinine. None of them directed the researcher to a GP or Travel Clinic.

Newsnight followed up their research with a hidden camera. A researcher went to Nelsons Pharmacy off Oxford Street in London, which claims to be Britain's biggest manufacturer of homeopathic remedies - and that was all they recommended for malaria.

High risk area

Even when the researcher said she planned to go to Malawi - a high risk area - Nelsons only suggested the addition of garlic, oil of citronella and vitamins rather than a trip to the doctors.

The Nelsons adviser told the researcher that the homeopathic compounds would protect her. "They make it so your energy doesn't have a malaria-shaped hole in it so the malarial mosquitos won't come along and fill that in."

Nelsons subsequently said that this was against their policy which is to tell patients about the advice "to take prophylactic drugs, as well as providing information about the homeopathic remedies that are available" and they have reiterated that advice to their homeopaths.

Helios in Covent Garden, London told Newsnight's researcher she only needed their homeopathic compounds to protect her, saying "Yes you don't need to take anything else."

Helios told us they still defend their advice. "Many people have researched anti-malarial drugs," they said, "and are concerned about the side effects. We give advice on traditional homeopathic remedies."

Superdrug

Larium
Prescribed drugs like Larium can help prevent malaria
We also made an appointment to see a homeopath at Superdrug in the Strand in London. Our researcher told the Superdrug staff member at the pharmacy counter she wanted the homeopathic appointment "to ask about malaria".

The Superdrug employee replied, "I see you want a homeopathic kind of solution." We were told we would pay Superdrug directly 58 for the first appointment but Superdrug have subsequently pointed out that she is an independent homeopath who runs a private clinic once a week in their store. They also told us that, "It is Superdrug policy to offer traditionally recognized medicines."

Around 20 people died of malaria last year after returning to the UK - mainly because they failed to take adequate prophylactic protection. It is a small number compared to the million people who died worldwide of malaria but the Chief Medical Officer told Newsnight tonight that the British cases are avoidable if proper prophylactics are taken. He warned against relying on homeopathic remedies for malaria.


Statement by one homeopathy practice featured in the film:

"The Vale Practice is a complimentary therapy centre that does exactly that - compliment the medical model, this however can only be done after a thorough consultation. In this instance a consultation was refused and direct and leading questions were put to the homeopath which can be taken out of context. The fact of the matter is that prophylactic drugs do have side effects and there may be alternatives to consider, the ultimate decision always rests with the patient, and as a practice The Vale Practice are there to advise and support in both instances."

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