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But are welcomed in India.

On the other hand, according to Raekha Prasad, writing in the same issue of The Lancet, homeopathy is a national medicine system in India, the market is growing at 25% a year and more than 100 million people depend on this form of therapy for their health care.

The story of a poor farmer in the western Indian state of Maharastra is worrying. Diagnosed as HIV positive, he responded in desperation to an advertisement in a local newspaper placed by a homeopathic doctor, who said he had found a cure for the virus. For 1 year, he took the drug administered by the homeopath at his private clinic. He sold his tractor to raise the 150 000 rupees (US $3 800) to pay for the so-called miracle cure that the homeopath named HIV-SJ. During that year, his condition deteriorated.

India has the world's third highest caseload of HIV/AIDS after Nigeria and South Africa. This particular homeopathic clinic drew in hundreds--all of whom had seen one of its leaflets or read its website that claimed the homeopath had cured 4 000 people with HIV in the past 2 years. Last month, the law finally caught up with the homeopath and he was prohibited from advertising the fanciful claims. He is currently under investigation by medical authorities.

But, in spite of the publicity that this case drew, for around 10% of India's population homeopathy is their sole form of medical treatment. Homeopathy has the third largest government-supported infrastructure after ayurvedic and modern medicine. There are around 11 000 homeopathic hospital beds in India and three-quarters of India's homeopathic practitioners were trained by the state. All medical students, conventional and otherwise, share the first 3 years of training. Homeopathic practitioners also charge less than half what conventional doctors do--further increasing their popularity. Homeopathy is also seen as harmless--fine if you are talking about the common cold, but rather more of a problem with HIV and malaria.

Part of homeopathy's attraction in India is that it sits well with the country's established indigenous ancient medicine, although it was introduced to the country by German missionaries 200 years ago. But, in India homeopaths and ayurvedic practitioners have access to and prescribe conventional drugs, which has led to the death of patients in some instances. Homeopathy is often the only treatment available to the poor, while India's wealthy see it as aroute to wellbeing--in much the same way as complementary remedies are used by wealthy people in the West.

Prasad R. Lancet 2007; 370: 1679-1680.
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Title Annotation:Abstracts
Author:Farham, Bridget
Publication:CME: Your SA Journal of CPD
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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