Coronavirus

The Pandemic Tests Germany's Love Affair With Homeopathy

Dismissed in much of the world as 'charlatanism,' homeopathic medicine, developed in the 18th century by Samuel Hahnemann, has long had a healthy following in his native Germany.

Some are vaunting the healing powers of homeopathy for COVID-19
Some are vaunting the healing powers of homeopathy for COVID-19
Elke Bodderas

BERLIN — As coronavirus continues to spread and doctors across the world scramble for an effective treatment, here in Germany we have some wonderful (some would say unbelievable news): The cure has been found.

The key, according to Germany's Hahnemann Society, is homeopathic medicine. "It has been shown that even the first seven days of the illness can be effectively treated," the organization's website announces triumphantly.

And the Hahnemann Society is not alone in vaunting the healing powers of homeopathy for COVID-19. Prominent Swiss doctor Jens Wurster claims to have used homeopathy to achieve "impressive treatment outcomes' for 70 patients, "both those with mild symptoms and severe cases."

The Locarno-based doctor has split opinion in German medicine. Before moving into COVID-19 treatment, he persuaded cancer patients to switch to homeopathic globules, earning himself a reputation among many as "an absolute charlatan," as oncology professor Jutta Hübner from Jena University Hospital succinctly puts it.

But Michaela Geiger, a doctor of integrated medicine and chair of the German Central Association of Homeopathic Physicians (GCAHP), sees things differently. "Just as mainstream medicine is still debating the best treatment, so is homeopathy," she says. Geiger sees Wurster's reports of healing through homeopathy "as a contribution to this ongoing exchange of experiences."

Homeopathy is the most popular alternative therapy in Germany. There are around 7,000 registered doctors in private practice who specialize in it, and half of Germans say that they have tried at least one homeopathic treatment, according to a survey by a homeopathic medicine manufacturer. Now the coronavirus pandemic has opened up a new, lucrative and almost boundless market.

Critics abound

In the early days of the virus, homeopaths in Germany held back. And at first, the GCHAP distanced itself from members who jumped on the opportunity to claim their globules had antiviral properties.

Since then, however, there has clearly been a change of heart. The Association is now calling for its members to document their homeopathic treatment of corona patients: "Against the current background of rising COVID-19 infections, with this project we can find out how homeopathy can contribute to treating COVID-19."

It wasn't long before scorn began pouring in from abroad. "German homeopaths launch a placebo offensive against corona," commented the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. "Scientists are tirelessly working to develop vaccines and treatments, and we hear again and again the sobering news that it will be a long wait before we have a vaccine. Meanwhile, German homeopaths are making reckless promises."

In Austria, homeopathy is generally regarded with suspicion, if not outright scorn. The Medical University of Vienna distanced itself from "charlatanism" and removed homeopathy from the syllabus.

In other countries too, the tide has turned against homeopaths. The French Ministry of Health has ruled out any health benefits from homeopathy, while the Spanish government classes it as "pseudoscience" that must be combated. And the European Academy of Sciences makes it clear that homeopathic treatments are no more effective than placebos. In the United States, homeopathic remedies on sale must display a clear label saying that they have no proven health benefits.

A piece of licorice has more medicinal content.

And in Germany? "In my view, it is completely irresponsible for doctors to treat COVID-19 patients using homeopathic methods," says Karl Lauterbach, a health expert with the Social Democratic Party. "The consequences for some patients could be deadly. Health insurance should not cover it and doctors should be forbidden from prescribing it."

Andrew Ullmann, a health expert with the Free Democratic Party, has a similar take. Patients should have to pay the cost of "these so-called therapies' themselves, he says. "For severe cases of COVID-19, my only recommendation is to see a qualified doctor."

In other countries too, the tide has turned against homeopaths. — Photo: Tampa Bay Times/ZUMAPRESS

Even Green Party members are distancing themselves from homeopathy. It should only be used as a complementary treatment, says Maria Klein-Schmeink, the party's health spokesperson.

A natural affinity

And yet, the fact remains that amid the confusion and fear of the pandemic, more and more people are turning to homeopathy. According to a survey by the Forsa Institute for Social Research and Statistical Analysis, two thirds of Germans would support the use of homeopathic remedies in treating COVID-19. That is not representative of the rest of Europe, or the world.

"Most people confuse homeopathy with natural remedies or plant-based medicine. That's a misunderstanding, a result of false labeling, which is enabled in Germany because sugar pills can be labeled as medicine," says Christian Lübbers, an eye, nose and throat specialist and spokesperson for Information Network Homeopathy.

"Studies have shown that only 17% of people know what homeopathy really is. But it's so simple: homeopathy is not plant-based medicine. It is a placebo," he adds.

Christian Weymayr, spokesperson for the group Münsteraner Kreis, which takes a critical stance toward homeopathy, agrees. "A piece of licorice has more medicinal content than homeopathic globules," he says. "People don't realize that homeopathy is ineffective because most people with COVID-19 only have mild symptoms."

Kreis goes on to say that in a climate of fear, when there will be a long wait for a vaccine, there is a growing danger that people will believe in things that give them false comfort.

That may well be the case in Germany. Homeopathic remedies can only be bought in pharmacies and their packaging is labeled with information about risks and side effects. Many health insurance companies will pay for them. And doctors often present their additional qualifications in homeopathy as if they were of equal value to their training in emergency medicine or diabetes treatment.

Dubious claims

The practice of homeopathy is contentious, and its critics often voice their opposition with something akin to hatred. The same goes for backers of the practice. In his blog, German homeopathy lobbyist and PR advisor Christian J. Becker boasts about journalists who have been "hit by complaints to the German Press Council."

Becker relies on audacious claims about history to justify the use of homeopathic remedies in the treatment of coronavirus. He says that during the 19th-century cholera epidemic, 92% of sufferers could have been healed through homeopathy, and that during the Spanish Flu epidemic, only 1% of hospital patients treated with homeopathy died, while the figure for those who underwent conventional treatment was 30%.

Doctor and homeopath Wolfgang Springer follows a similar argument, claiming that the success of homeopathic treatments during the historical epidemics of cholera, yellow fever, scarlet fever and encephalitis has been well documented.

What they fail to mention — or perhaps don't realize — is that the apparent success of homeopathy during the cholera outbreak, when the father of homeopathy Samuel Hahnemann was active, was because it had one advantage: It protected weakened patients from the harmful treatments of the time.

Alternative medicine only seemed to be effective, in other words, because the standard treatment of bloodletting and laxatives finished off most patients. Hahnemann's treatment, in contrast, involved camphor and mineral water.

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

A dove from Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida tough enough to lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam, Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

In September 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years.

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

Daisuke Kondo / Economic Observer

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."


— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Fumigation is used as a precautionary measure against the spread of dengue disease in New Delhi, India, where more than 1,000 cases have been reported — Photo: Naveen Sharma/SOPA Images/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! - info@worldcrunch.com

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