The full program is on BBCi player for 4 more days, but it may be possible to get a link from elsewhere in due course.
EDIT: Some kind person has put it onto YouTube
In any case, for non-UKers, here is the transcript of the interesting parts of the report. Susan Curtis scores a few cracking own goals, including getting all grumphy and storming out of the interview. I look forward to hearing from Susan - especially as to what "evidence by extension" is. It's not a term I've across before.
[Janine Jansen – voiceover and interviewer]
Ever since ancient times, plants have been used for their medicinal qualities and today alternative medicine is big business. Every year we spend millions of pounds on it. Now one strand is homeopathy, but Inside Out can reveal that a leading national chain is selling homeopathic products and claiming they can help prevent a major tropical killer, malaria. It is a claim hotly disputed by medical experts.
[Dr Behrens (Tropical Diseases Travel Unit)]
“It is potentially highly dangerous, it puts lives at risks and I think the science behind it doesn’t exist and people should be aware of this.”
[Prof. Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School]
“It is the worst end of the spectrum of alternative medicine. That’s why I’m angry about it.”
Neal’s Yard Remedies is an upmarket chain of stores that claims to sell the UK’s largest range of organic herbs and skincare. It can count celebrities like Kylie and Danii Minogue as fans of their products and in 2007 they won a Sunday Times Best Ethical Brand Award. They sell all sorts of lotions and potions to make you smell nice.
But they also provide advice about homeopathic alternatives to immunisation and they sell a book that contains pratical information on preventing and treating major infectious diseases such as malaria. So I went to the Neal’s Yard store in Exeter to investigate.
I told them I was back-packing around Congo and Namibia, two places where malaria is endemic and I asked for some travel advice. [Additional information on malaria]
It is not just people from developing countries who die from the disease, with overseas travel now so cheap, people from the UK are also at risk.
[Case study on UK death due to malaria]
“You cannot assume because you have been there repeatedly that you have built natural immunity and therefore you need to be continuously on malaria tablets”
Meanwhile back at Neal’s Yard, I’ve got my advice about travelling to sub-Saharan Africa. The manager of their Exeter store recommended two homeopathic medicines, or remedies as they refer to them, to help me deal with malaria. He sold me malaria Officianalis 30 and China 30c. He also photocopied a page out of this book, it’s written by Susan Curtis, she’s the Medicines Director for Neal’s Yard. In it, she describes these remedies as prophylaxis, which in everyday english means prevention of disease and though she says that no remedies, orthodox or alternative can guarantee prevention of malaria, she does however say the risk and severity of an attack can be lessened with appropriate remedies.
I wanted an expert opinion on the products I’d been sold, so I showed them to Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter. For the last 15 years he’s been studying the evidence for and against alternative medicine.
[Prof. Edzard Ernst]
“To be absolutely precise, there is nothing in them. You know, it is so dilute that you will not find a single molecule of whatever it says on the label, so nothing biologically active. It doesn’t prevent anything, it doesn’t prevent malaria, it doesn’t treat malaria, it doesn’t do anything.”
[Brief recap of homeopathy]
Some homeopaths like Susan Curtis, the Medicines Director for Neal’s Yard, believe that when the active component is diluted and repeatedly banged, then its full potency is released.
[Susan Curtis] It’s an energy medicine so it works by stimulating your natural immunity to illnesses.
[Janine Jansen] And how can a homeopathic remedy help prevent malaria?
[Susan Curtis] Well it works in the same way as I just described really, but there haven’t been any actual clinical trials with malaria.
Conventional anti-malarial tablets must past stringent tests before any claims can be made about their efficacy.
“We actually give people a tablet and then you get them bitten by a malarial mosquito, and you know that they’ve been injected and if none of them get malaria then the tablet has worked and that is what is required to be convinced that preventative tablets work.”
I couldn’t help thinking that it might be more helpful for customers if Neal’s Yard spelt out that these products had not been tested scientifically.
[Janine Jansen] You don’t say it on your page that there’s been no clinical trials into these preventative products.
[Susan Curtis] Well, I do say that there is no guarantee that the remedy will prevent malaria, however there is some evidence by extension that homeopathy can be very effective in certain epidemic diseases and there have been trials that show that so it is…
[Janine Jansen] Not for malaria.
[Susan Curtis] That is exactly right which is why I keep saying that there is no clinical trials that we know of that show that the homeopathic remedies work for malaria.
“When it comes to serious diseases like malaria it is awful. I wouldn’t hesitate to call this criminal. I don’t whether this is legally criminal, but in my view this is so … amoral and unethical that I wouldn’t hesitate to call it criminal.”
[Janine Jansen] Do you think this page is misleading?
[Susan Curtis] I think that I will continue to emphasize that there is no 100% guaranteed prevention for malaria.
In her book, she uses a trip to India as evidence that Homeopathic remedies can prevent malaria. I wanted to know what happened to her.
[Janine Jansen] Did you get stung, bitten by a mosquito with malaria?
[Susan Curtis] Well I didn’t get malaria.
[Janine Jansen] But Were you bitten by a mosquito with malaria?
[Susan Curtis] Well you wouldn’t know would you?
[Janine Jansen] But how do you know it worked how do you know that you were safe?
[Susan Curtis] There have been no clinical trials to prove or disprove that homeopathic medicines work against malaria.
15 minutes in and Susan Curtis stopped the interview.
[Susan Curtis] I’ve actually had enough
Even though we had not put all our points to her including Professor Ernst’ allegations:
[Janine Jansen] He says what you are doing is criminal and unethical and very dangerous to customers.
[SC exits stage left.]
We contacted the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. They told us that “prepackaged homeopathic medicines must be either Registered or authorised by the MHRA and that neither Malaria Officianalis 30 nor China 30c were registered or authorised by them and that non-orthodox practioners who sell a prepackaged homeopathic medicine not registered or authorised by them are acting illegally.”
If you take malaria tablets you have 98% chance of being protected whereas the evidence doesn’t support an protection from taking a homeopathic remedy. I know which strategy I would prefer.
We are now passing on our findings to the MHRA and Trading Standards.
End of transcript.
Further analysis can be found on The Quackometer. In a funny sort of round about way, The Society of Homeopaths tried to sue The Quackometer for saying pretty much what Susan Curtis is saying. But then other homeopaths will tell you they don't treat the disease, just the person. It's pretty clear they don't really know what they believe.
And it is purely belief.
EDITED TO ADD (29/04/08) - Neal's Yard have removed the homeopathic malaria range from their shelves - see here
EDITED TO ADD (6/05/08) - Neal's Yard have been smacked for being naughty by the MHRA. See here.