I’ve been reading about the Maun Homeopathy Clinic in Botswana here. It is a depressingly dangerous combination of danger, delusion and humanitarianism.
It might be surprising to some to see me have a good word to say about homeopathists, especially when that word is humanitarianism but I honestly believe that these volunteers actually care about their patients – why else go out to Botswana for living expenses only when you can make a comfortable living off the worried well here in the UK?
They are still deluded though; their magic water and sugar pills do nothing for their patients. Their delusions are bad for their patients and may even endanger the homeopaths themselves.
The delusions seem to have their root in confirmation bias. There’s this for example. Volunteer homeopath Arun Mushiana says:-
“The homeopaths are so loved here, and at the clinic we see daily miracles.”
There then follows an anecdote about an un-named woman who allegedly recovered from malaria after being treated with homeopathic medicine. Now I’m no medic but I’ve heard of recurring malaria – where the disease periodically flares up and dies down. It is my suspicion that this patient was given the “medicine” when she was close to being at her worst and when her symptoms died down, the homeopath claimed the credit.
There’s also this which I reached by clicking on a link on the website of our old friends the Society of Homeopaths. It is claimed:-
“In some cases we clearly snatch people from the brink of death”
Again, this is confirmation bias – AIDS sufferers symptoms vary from day to day.
It is admitted that when a patient gets too ill (when s/he really is seriously ill) only antiretrovirals can help but even here the homeopath misses the point that if the ARVs are administered early enough after infection then the onset of full-blown AIDS can be delayed – sometimes for years. Even if they are not administered until the symptoms of AIDS have appeared, they will keep the patient alive and in some approximation of health.
Because the clinic’s patients are not given ARVs until they are seriously ill, they will die and this is where the homeopaths healing fantasies will turn against them. They claim to be miracle workers so what will the families of the dead assume?
Because there is such a stigma about HIV/AIDS in southern Africa many will not admit that a family member is a sufferer. Often they will insist that the patient has been poisoned. When the patient dies after taking the strange foreign potions they may assume fatal poisoning.
He who lives by confirmation bias may die by confirmation bias.