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Quacks in Haiti


Peter Lipson has an interesting post about the unsurprising failures that naturopathic peddlers have faced in the wake of the Haitian catastrophe. Apparently, people wallowing in the aftermath of a natural disaster tend to be unimpressed by the results of cure-all vitamin C injections and are audacious enough to reject magic beans homeopathy in favor of actual medicine — though Lipson notes that homeopathic water, which will likely contain “fewer fecal coliforms than the local water,” will probably do no harm so long as no one expects it to resolve any illness.

Then again, it’s less than clear that homeopaths even know how to use water properly. As this story explains, a group styling itself “Homeopaths Without Borders” recently sent a troupe of faith healers to Haiti, where they laid hands upon the afflicted.

The group set up shop in two tents next to a clinic and hospital, and treated more than 2,000 patients in three days. Much of the treatments were for itchy eyes and itchy scalps, probably brought about by the dust generated by the quake. There were also problems with itchy skin and upset stomachs.

The more serious injuries went into the clinic or hospital. And many of the gravest cases, such as amputees, were at the main base of relief operations some five miles away at the airport. The mission of the homeopaths was to deal with what [Nancy] Eos called the walking wounded.

Perhaps I’m being ungenerous by wondering if these well-meaning featherbrains actually offered sugar pills and tinctures in lieu of eye flushes and showers, but I’m glad to see they were sensible enough to pass along the amputees to a proper hospital — an approach that nevertheless seems not to be widely shared among a community that believes homeopathy is more effective at treating malaria than amodiaquine and mosquito nets. Then again — lest we understate the irrational insertion of quack medicine into a disaster zone — we need only to remember that if the producers of homeopathic “remedies” actually followed the production steps necessary to generate 25ml of a 200C dilution, they would actually dump roughly 500 liters of water. I’m sure the people of Haiti would appreciate homeopathy even more if its practitioners would simply ship them all the water they waste to make the tiny bottles of water they tote with them.

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