By Dana Ullman MPH
According to a recent survey, approximately one-third of Costa Rica’s population of three million people have used homeopathic medicines. Due to the growing popularity of this natural therapeutic, Costa Rican physicians have recently sought to pass legislation that determines that homeopathic care can only be provided by medical doctors.
In response to this legislative effort, the Homeopathic Association of Costa Rica (HACR), a group of physicians, health professionals, and homeopathic specialists, has mounted a response to this proposal that would create a medical monopoly.
As a part of their effort to respond to the new legislation, the HACR organized their third annual homeopathic conference which took place June 16-18, 1996, in San Jose, Costa Rica. Two homeopathic physicians from Mexico and I were invited to be their keynote speakers. Besides having television and print media report on this conference and on their pleadings to the public for support of their cause, the conference organizers arranged for me to met with Dr. Herman Weinstock (the Minister of Health), Bernal Aragon Barquero (the head of the Congress), and Mario Carazo (the vice-president of the Congress).
All three political figures were briefly informed of the present status of homeopathy throughout the world. They were told that some countries prefer to allow only physicians to practice homeopathy, specifically France, Belgium, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico, while other countries allow a variety of health professionals to engage in its practice, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia. They were also given an overview of clinical studies that show the efficacy of homeopathic medicines. Of special interest to them was the study on the homeopathic treatment of acute diarrhea in Nicaraguan children which was published in Pediatrics (May, 1994).
Because Costa Rica has become one of the strongest international advocates for efforts to support biodiversity and ecology, I informed the politicians that medical diversity is equally important for creating a healthy health care system as biodiversity is for creating a healthy environment.
The Minister of Health was impressed by our presentation, though he remained non-committal until he met with the physicians who proposed medical control of homeopathy. In contrast, the head of the Congress expressed his support for our cause, and then, reminded us that he is also the President of Costa Rica’s largest and most respected hospitals. He told the homeopathic physician who accompanied me to the meeting that it was time that his hospital began to include homeopathic medicines in the hospital’s pharmacy.
The meeting with the vice-president of the Congress was the most remarkable. We were initially informed by his administrative assistant that we would have only five minutes of his time. However, upon entering his office, he told us that he grew up on homeopathy and his parents used only homeopathic and botanical remedies. Because his father was a former President of Costa Rica, this statement was particularly impressive. We ultimately left after 45 minutes, and he expressed sorrow that we could not spend more time together.
The homeopathic conference itself was quite successful. I was particularly intrigued by the variety of people who had become professional homeopaths. Besides physicians, there were microbiologists, pharmacists, public health professionals, corporate executives, hospital administrators, nutritionists, and several engineers. Of particular interest was a report from the homeopath who had training in microbiology and was conducting a controlled study on the homeopathic treatment of people with AIDS. Although he had not yet finished the study nor had he broken the code to learn who had received homeopathic medicines and who had received placeboes, he had so far (after nine months) noticed a considerable difference between the groups of patients. We all await his results.