A group of high-profile scientists is calling for universities to dump alternative and complementary health care courses believing they are not supported by valid scientific research. Such an outrageous demand is blatantly hypocritical when you consider that up to half of all western medical interventions lack a comprehensive evidence base and that preventable medical errors in hospitals are responsible for 11% of all deaths in Australia.
Friends of Science in Medicine is a group of high profile scientists led by John Dwyer, emeritus professor of medicine at the University of New South Wales and includes biologist Sir Gustav Nossal and cervical cancer vaccine creator Ian Frazer. Consisting of around 400 doctors, medical researchers and scientists, FSM was established in 2011 due to its concern over the increasing number of dubious interventions they claimed were not supported by credible scientific evidence, on offer to Australians. They claim that our system of medical health care provides patients with interventions supported by scientific evidence of effectiveness whereas ‘complementary and alternative’ interventions (CAM), they say, are not subjected to scientific scrutiny and can compromise the health of many patients. The alternative health treatments they wish to see excluded from university courses include homeopathy, naturopathy, iridology, chiropractic and osteopathy.
The group face opposition from many of their own peers who accuse them of ‘exploiting their positions in the community and engaging in censorship,’. Other critics point out that up to half of all Western medical interventions lack a comprehensive evidence base. Official Australian government reports reveal that preventable medical error in hospitals is responsible for 11% of all deaths in Australia which is about 1 of every 9 deaths. If deaths from properly researched, properly registered, properly prescribed and properly used drugs were added along with preventable deaths due to private practice it comes to a staggering 19%, which is almost 1 of every 5 deaths.
Revelations of inadequate research and testing are borne out time and time again and just last week doubts have emerged over the efficacy of prostate surgery for cancer. A study has found that prostate surgery does not appear to save the lives of men with early-stage disease and causes high rates of incontinence and erectile dysfunction. After 10 years, 21 men or 5.8 per cent of those who received surgery had died from prostate cancer or its treatment, compared to 31 or 8.4 per cent of those whose doctors watched their progress. And in the surgery group, one in five men suffered tragic complications from the surgery such as erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence and bowel dysfunction. According to the chief executive of the Cancer Council, Ian Olver, ‘the largest study of PSA testing in Europe had shown that for every man whose life was saved by a radical prostatectomy, 37 men had one that did not save their life.’
I draw the reader’s attention to the lack of testing in the area of medications and vaccines. According to a report performed by a panel of experts assembled by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, between 1993 and 2004 there was a more than 80 per cent increase in the number of medications prescribed to Americans. The panel believes this boom in pharmaceuticals is outpacing the rate at which information on their effectiveness can be generated.
In 2004, drug manufacturer Merck abruptly recalled Vioxx, an arthritis treatment and one of the company’s top-selling drugs, after an internal study showed that patients taking the drug were more likely to suffer a cardiac event than those taking a placebo. It is now known that altogether 60,000 died from heart attacks and strokes after using Vioxx . But what is even worse than the deaths ( if this is possible) is that the drug maker Merck knew that Vioxx posed cardiovascular risk as early as 1996.
Then there’s the case of the cervical cancer vaccine discovered by Professor Ian Frazer, one of the eminent scientists who claims alternative health care courses are not supported by valid research. But Gardasil the acclaimed vaccine for cervical cancer has never been fully tested on females under 15 . Even so, the National HPV Vaccination Program currently provides the HPV vaccine to all females through school programs at age 12 to 13 years. And this is given for Human papilloma Virus prevention when 70 percent of all HPV infections resolve themselves without treatment within a year, and within two years that number climbs to 90 percent. Of the remaining 10 percent, only half will develop into cervical cancer, resulting in little need for the vaccine.This vaccine also contains chemicals such as an aluminum adjuvant – that has been linked to the Gulf War Syndrome. Since the drug’s introduction in 2006, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has received more than 18,000 reports of adverse side effects related to Gardasil. These reports include serious adverse effects including Guilliane Barre, lupus, seizures, paralysis, blood clots, brain inflammation, severe fatigue and weakness, heart problems, shortness of breath, chest pains and many more. At last count, there have been at least 73 reported deaths as a result of Gardasil use.
On the other hand what do we know about deaths from alternative medicine? Of course they exist but probably as the result of expecting too much from the therapy. The ABC’s Australian Story featured the case of a woman who when diagnosed with rectal cancer was advised to have life saving surgery but refused and instead sought treatment from her homeopath. Sadly when the cancer growth and pain was too much to bear it turned out to be far too late for a medical cure and she died.
Both rigorously tested allopathic medicine and so-called alternative modalities are needed in our complex society and should be taught in our universities. According to Surgeon and former director of trauma services at Westmead Hospital, Dr Valerie Malka:
For more than 10,000 years, natural therapies have been used, while conventional medicine is but 100 years old.
The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 80 per cent of the world’s population relies on natural therapies to treat, prevent and cure diseases. There is no better than modern medicine when it comes to surgery, emergency and trauma, but for almost everything else, traditional, natural or alternative medicine is far more effective – particularly for chronic illness which modern medicine is completely unable to treat or cure.