Interview and Translation by Linda V. Nurra, Ph.D
Dr. Elio Rossi is a medical doctor with a specialization in infectious diseases who has been practicing homeopathy for 40 years. He is internationally renowned for his advocacy efforts for homeopathy, as well as his prolific work as an educator, conference presenter, editor and author of more than 250 publications. Over the past 20 years, he has been working for the recognition and integration of homeopathy and other complementary medicines within the Italian public healthcare system. These efforts have resulted in the passing of legislation at the national and regional levels and the opening of 91 complementary medicine clinics within hospitals in Tuscany alone.
In Part 1 [ http://hpathy.com/homeopathy-interviews/heroic-times-italian-homeopathy-interview-dr-elio-rossi/ ] of this interview, Dr. Rossi shares his personal story of coming to homeopathy in the 1970s, which also represents an important chapter in the broader history – and the resurgence – of homeopathy in Italy. He describes these as “heroic times,” when a group of students in Milan began their gatherings with Mario Garlasco and Carlo Cenerelli, then with Jacques Imberechts, who helped them reach out to other groups across Europe, and finally with Joseph Reves. In 1992, Dr. Rossi decides to relocate from Milan to Lucca, Tuscany, making a long stop in Cuba on the way. There, he helped to catalyze a resurgence of interest in homeopathy and provide Cuban homeopaths with training and much-needed pharmacy supplies.
It sounds like your experience in Cuba was an important step towards a broader social and political engagement for you – and your move to Tuscany offered a context where it could play out. Why did you decide to move to Lucca and what happened when you got there?
I came to Lucca because I wanted to be in a smaller, more livable city than Milan. Luck would have it that Tuscany’s regional government and health institutions were significantly more open to the new, and to the integration of complementary medicines within healthcare.
When I first moved there, I worked in a much more narrow way than in Milan, where I had a thriving private practice. I started my new activity practically from scratch; no one knew me. After a year, in 1996, I was contacted by a member of the regional board from the Green Party, Tommaso Franci, who wanted to include in the regional health plan something about complementary or “non-conventional” medicines, as they were called back then.
In drafting this, we made the case that there is an important percentage of the population that does not use conventional medicine and hospitals but that pays taxes, and that it would be appropriate for the region to recognize this. The case was presented to the chair of the regional health board, Claudio Martini, who understood the importance of our message. For the first time ever, a regional health plan was issued that included the term “non-conventional medicines” and argued for their importance in reducing pharmaceutical consumption and abuse. That was 1996, just the beginning of a journey that has lasted 20 years, with many changes and positive results.
What made it possible to translate the Tuscan regional health plan into a practical, clinical reality?
After the plan was made official, we formed an association called “Medicine e salute” [Medicines and health], with representatives from various complementary medicines. The association helped to prepare a conference on non-conventional medicines held in November 1997 at the seat of the regional government in Florence, with the support of Claudio Martini. At the end of this conference, Martini issued a policy statement authorizing hospital directors, if they chose, to institute complementary medicine practices.
With this policy statement in hand, I went to the Lucca hospital general director, Dr. Raffaele Faillace, to propose opening a clinic. He was very much in favor of the idea and I learned that his wife and children used homeopathy. He had no problem moving ahead if I was available and willing. Not surprisingly, I had to be willing to accept a sacrifice in pay as well.
I accepted the challenge. In 1996, the first public acupuncture clinic had opened its doors; in 1997, the first herbal medicine clinic. By September 1998, I was opening the first public homeopathy clinic in Tuscany at the Lucca hospital. I insisted that the clinic not be separate from the hospital structure itself, not so much to plant a homeopathic flag, but rather to say: “We are within this institution just like others, but simply doing something different than we have always done.”
Initially, we received nominal compensation, similar to what we earned in our student days. The patient paid a “ticket,” part of which went to the hospital and the other to the doctor. If a patient didn’t show up, you didn’t earn at all, so our income was symbolic more than substantial. It took years for this to change. In 2002, our clinic became the “regional reference center” for homeopathy in Tuscany and in 2008 we were recognized as “clinic specialists” and CM experts. This means that if a homeopathy-related issue presents itself within the regional government, or if a law needs to be passed, they ask my opinion as director of the reference center. And now we have funding.
What else has happened between 2002 and today?
Tuscany can now boast of its 91 public complementary medicine clinics within almost all hospitals in the region. Seventeen of these are dedicated to homeopathy, which is one option along with acupuncture and herbal medicine, for a total of 30,000 visits a year in Tuscany. Approximately one fifth are homeopathic visits. It’s quite a demanding reality.
Just in Lucca, there are three centers: a homeopathy clinic and an integrative oncology clinic directed by me, and a women’s homeopathy clinic directed by a colleague of mine, Dr. Marialessandra Panozzo, a homeopath and experienced gynecologist who specializes in gender medicine. Even though no one talked about gender medicine when we opened this clinic in 2002, it was clear that a women’s clinic run by a female gynecologist was appropriate, given that most homeopathy patients are women and often present typically “female” issues.
From then on, my efforts have run along parallel tracks – on one, the homeopathy work being done in the hospital; on the other, the institutional, regional work. When we started, we realized that we were lacking a general frame of reference. If you want to work in a hospital, you need a contract. What contract can be drawn up if homeopathy is not a recognized specialty?
We therefore decided to work towards the recognition of homeopathy at the regional level, which resulted in the passage of a law in 2007 and an agreement with clinic specialists stating that even in absence of a specialty, there would be a recognition of homeopathic expertise as if it were a specialty . We built a system – a small system, but also a significant and meaningful one.
What do you mean exactly when you say that you’ve built a “system”?
It’s important to understand that the Tuscan experience isn’t limited to the inclusion of complementary medicine within public clinics and hospitals. What we tried to create was a broad system of inclusion and integration at every possible level of regional healthcare. We have launched numerous educational campaigns for the general public . We regularly organize conferences and provide training for healthcare professionals. We issue a newsletter every four months that informs all CM stakeholder organizations and doctors about what is happening in the region . We also systematically share our results through scientific publications and conferences locally and abroad. My group, for example, has focused strongly on documenting and compiling outcome data on homeopathy in atopic diseases, allergies, and women’s health issues, among others.
Our professional trainings have addressed a range of topics: informational courses on complementary medicine for more than 600 specialists, Chinese Medicine and homeopathy for natural birth for obstetricians, complementary medicine in pain management for general practitioners, and clinical risk and patient safety management in complementary medicines, among others. We even had a course for prison healthcare personnel inspired by an interesting experience on the island of Gorgona, the home of an agricultural penal colony, that began with the use of complementary medicines for animals raised by the prisoners themselves. Unfortunately this project was closed by the Italian Ministry of Justice a couple years ago.
Even when they didn’t result in integration projects, these trainings have helped to create a culture of information and understanding around the philosophies and therapeutic possibilities of complementary medicines.
Part of your work has been focused on integrative oncology. Can you tell us about that?
Yes. We have been working in integrative oncology with support from the Region of Tuscany. We are helping patients better handle conventional treatments and experience improved quality of life. I’m convinced that this helps also in terms of survival and the reduction of recurrences. This area is gaining ground in the United States as well, but the challenge for us is integrating it into our own public healthcare system. Keep in mind that in Tuscany, where anyone can have an integrative medicine (or any other specialist) visit for 24 euros, low-income and cancer patient care is free.