I know I blogged about this many months ago on Homologous Legs, but I thought that Informal Skepticism would be a good place to bring it up again.

Monkeybiz is a project that helps South African women earn income through making bead art pieces, such as the one in the photo above, in the style of their local beading tradition. Such art pieces are quite popular around the world, and recently my sister was given one of them as a present: I think it’s a giraffe. Anyway, that’s not the problem, that’s good. Helping disadvantaged people in undeveloped nations is a great thing, and should be encouraged. But here’s the problem (taken from this webpage):

Wellness Clinic

We run an HIV/AIDS Wellness Clinic located in the heart of Cape Town, which provides skills training and HIV/AIDS support for low-income HIV+ women. This thriving centre, started in 2003, caters for 60 women once a week, offering them beadwork training, HIV/AIDS counseling, yoga therapy, homeopathic HIV/AIDS treatment and basic nutrition. Exact! Clothing contributes NutriKing, a nutritious vitamin supplement to our clinic each month, and provides us with t-shirt off-cuts for stuffing for our products and our t-shirt project.

(Emphasis added by me, of course.)

Is this a bad thing? We all know, through common sense, a lack of actual data and Steven Novella, that homeopathy is not effective at treating medical conditions such as AIDS, or anything else that the placebo effect can’t take care of). Homeopathic products are little more than, one would presume, freshly oxygenated water (due to all that succussion) and the good wishes of the practitioner. The AIDS treatments given by this “Wellness Clinic” aren’t going to do anything to help the women who are receiving them, so is this bad?

If the location of the clinic was shifted to a First World country with adequate health care and a reasonable standard of living (*cough* Australia *cough*), then the answer to that question may be different. The taking of homeopathic remedies is only really harmful in two ways: one, if the remedies remove the ability or will to take actual effective medicine to treat the condition, or two, if the remedies cost a large amount of money and deprive them of what little wealth they have. Living in Australia, or, sigh, the US, would allow the first reason to not take homeopathic remedies to apply, as health care is good and the accessibility of real medicine is high. But in a nation such as South Africa, AIDS medication is hard to find, and you would have to guess, expensive because of it. So these women aren’t going to get real medication. Thus, getting homeopathy is not removing their ability to get good treatment.

But what about the second reason? We can discount that due to the fact that the clinic offers the homeopathy free of charge. No money is spent by the women receiving the homeopathy on the homeopathy itself.

Ah, a tough dilemma. But wait, there’s one more reason I forgot to give.

Another way that homeopathy could be dangerous is if the clinic itself could reasonably get some actual treatment at some sort of humanitarian discount instead of the homeopathy. Maybe some homeopathic practitioner persuaded Monkeybiz to buy their products? Hopefully not, but I wouldn’t put it past some of the people who advocate alternative medicines: they actually believe that it helps people, and want to do everything they can to show that it does. What’s better then than some cheery AIDS relief in South Africa? Oh, we’re being so helpful, think the homeopathy advocates.

Can you think of a way in which these homeopathic treatments are bad? If you can, please post a comment.