A preliminary, exploratory survey encompassing the feedbacks of 10% of the Israeli Homeopathic community investigated the trends and results in treating 907 patients suffering from coronavirus or coronavirus-like symptoms during the first seven months since its local outbreak. Patterns of the use of set protocols vs. individualized remedies selection, the conditions under which vitamins were preferred over homeopathic intervention and the reported results are discussed, along with a short review of the Israeli homeopathic community in the last few decades and the challenges and opportunities it faces during the coronavirus pandemic.
Does anyone possibly still remember that the Olympic Games were originally supposed to take place this past summer? Wouldn’t the very idea of such spectacular mass events utterly just send shivers up and down one’s spine nowadays? Sport addicts and trivia fans can still indulge in a new Olympic sport, i.e. different countries’ success rates in handling the COVID-19 spread. Yes, a table now even reports updates regarding the global “winners” and “losers”.
This article aims at describing patterns of homeopathic intervention during the COVID-19 outbreak and crises that have followed, while shedding some light on the Israeli homeopathic community, its unique status and the new opportunities it may now have. It may be said that global society is transforming before our very eyes, either adapting or perishing under extreme circumstances. A local zoom into the measures taken by a small professional community might be an interesting test case, as they could offer some sustainable models developed during the imposed lockdowns.
Keeping a Delicate Balance
This article is written as Israel has a total of 48,000 COVID-19 patients, 1,195 of which are hospitalized (581 in severe condition) and an overall of 1,196 deceased since the outbreak. The country is emerging from a second nationwide lockdown, imposed in spite of the fact that infection rates demonstrated that only a fraction of Israeli cities were a reason for concern.
The private sector has been intermittently paralyzed for the greater part since the local breakout of COVID-19 in March, and vulnerable groups have been badly damaged – in a time when Israel is coping with a politically unstable period.
It therefore follows that the explosive climate of distrust might nurture nothing but an inevitable, severe decline in public trust towards government policy and a conscious noncompliance with guidelines, which are widely thought to be set primarily by political decision makers.
Israel sadly broke a world record in becoming the first country to re-enter a national lockdown, this one being more strictly enforced by fines, police and army patrolling.
The second lockdown hasn’t included mobile phone tracking and curfews exercised during the first lockdown, which were later deemed unnecessary. This COVID-19 failure, taken in its context means political instability and a population that is distrustful, less cooperative and also more anxious and desperate at times.
Israeli Homeopathic Community in Context
With its 9.2 million citizens and an estimated 29,000 practicing MDs[i], it is estimated that around 400 classical homeopaths are currently practicing in Israel. This number was reached at by crossing numbers of homeopathic software holders[ii]. At present there are 187 paying members in the Israeli Association for Classical Homeopathy (IACH, not to be confused with Prof. Vithoulkas’ IACH). The number was higher in previous decades and the decline can be viewed as part of the global trend.
Background and History
It may be said that the homeopathic seeds first sprouted in Israel in the 1930s, after being imported by Dr. Ya’akov Eric Yarus (1892-1984) and Dr. Eugene Heiman (1910-2002), two immigrants from Germany.
Despite the fact that they had gained a substantial recognition, and yet again in accordance with homeopathy’s ebb and flow during the 20th century, it wasn’t until the mid-1970’s that a group of homeopaths started studying with Joseph Reves (who also trained in Germany), to form about a decade later the Israeli School of Homeopathy headed by Dr. Chaim Rosenthal.
The first class to have trained there established, upon graduation, the IACH in 1993. The following years saw the soaring of the profession worldwide, and the local community flourished to reach a peak of 4 schools acknowledged by the Association and another three independent programs. Many seminars were being held during that Golden Age, featuring world renowned homeopaths. Despite some promising negotiations with the Higher Education Committee, the 4 year programs, supervised and acknowledged by the IACH, have not been recognized as academic.
To date, all four health service providers in Israel offer their customers homeopathic consultations, and some private insurance plans offer a certain refund for private consultations. In other words, the entire Israeli population, eligible for national health services by law, has some degree of access to homeopathy.
Homeopathic treatment has also been available in outpatient clinics in five leading hospitals. It should be nevertheless stated that such elaborate activity and de-facto recognition does not stem from an acknowledgement by the medical establishment, but relies on ground work made by diligent homeopaths and sheer financial interests of the health service providers.
No laws are in favor of homeopathy nor against it, and the practice is possible owing solely to the Basic Law of Freedom of Occupation. The Ministry of Health’s only rule in this field is with regard to the manufacturing and dispatching of remedies, which is allowed solely in pharmacies (and not private clinics).
The same neutral policy seems to have been applied during COVID-19 times. Unprepared and in shortage of viable solutions, authorities have nevertheless not made any strategic shift with regard to homeopathic interventions in hospitals.
Homeopathy and the First COVID-19 Survey
A recent data-collecting survey explored the patterns of homeopathic treatment during the COVID-19 period. 42 homeopathic practitioners took part in it, the vast majority of which (95%) are members of the Israeli Association for Classical Homeopathy and none is an MD.
As mentioned before, the Association presently comprises of 187 registered practitioners, meaning that the survey covers 1/5 of its members. It is a probable assumption that this sample represents patterns within the entire professional community.
71% of the respondents provided the treatment on one of the two special, free coronavirus hotlines now operating in Israel – either under the auspice of the Association or the HHNI, part of the international project led by Jeremy Sherr. 78% of the therapists also provided service privately.
Number of Patients
Based on the reports of those 42 homeopaths, a total of 907 people sought homeopathic assistance during the period between March and September. It should be emphasized that 57% of them were verified coronavirus patients, while the rest complained of related and similar pictures, though unverified. 58% of the patients had never contacted a homeopath before.
Communication with medical professionals
Approximately 21% of the respondents reported they cooperated with medical authorities regarding the treatment of the coronavirus symptoms. 56% of those cases were referrals from physicians, 44% were from pharmacists and 33% were from a nursing staff.
Prevention or Treatment
73% of the respondents stated that they had received inquiries from people who were found negative for COVID-19 or who had not been tested yet and just wanted some preventive treatment. In cases of preventive treatment inquiries, 86% of the homeopaths recommended vitamins, and in 42% of the cases the advice was to monitor the condition and treat homeopathically if necessary.
11% of the referrals were made by existing patients who asked for a preventive treatment and were recommended to repeat their ‘chronic’ remedy. It is interesting that in 43% of the cases, the therapists recommended preventive treatment using a given protocol (according to one of the methods published recently, be it Sankaran’s, Sherr’s etc.). Only 9% of the therapists indicated that prevention was not the right method for them, and that conditions should only be treated based on the presence of indicative symptoms.
95% of the therapists indicated that they also treated cases verified for COVID-19. It is important to emphasize that in many cases, especially on the hotlines, the therapeutic communication was partial and patients were not always fully committed to the process. Treatments were therefore often given in situations that might better be called ‘Corona-like’, as some patients preferred not to do the test but just improve clinically.
Severity of Conditions
54% respondents reported they had no a-symptomatic patients.
Patients with a Mild Condition
45% of the patients reported mild symptoms. The criteria for assessing the severity of such a condition (and the following conditions as well) were kindly shared by Jeremy Sherr and his team and include mild fever, muscle and joint pain, dry cough, runny nose, sinus problems, headache, nausea, poor appetite, loss of sense of smell and/or taste, diarrhea, weakness, restlessness or anxiety. In more than two-thirds of such cases (67.5%, to be exact) the result of the homeopathic treatment was defined as ‘excellent’ (score 5/5 on a scale of 1 to 5), and in 27.5% of the cases as ‘very good’ (score 4/5). In other words, in 95% of mild conditions treated by homeopathy, the result was summarized as ‘very good’ to ‘excellent’.
Patients with a Moderate Condition
Half of the therapists reported an ‘excellent’ result of the homeopathic treatment in a moderate condition and in 31.3% of the cases defined the result as ‘very good’ (score 4/5). In other words, in 81% of moderate conditions there seemed to be a very good to excellent improvement with the help of homeopathy. 24.9% of the patients who sought a solution to their symptoms were defined as having a condition of moderate severity. The criteria for assessing the severity as such were high fever, severe muscle and joint pain, severe headache, weakness and severe heaviness, dry cough, significant difficulty in breathing, sticky phlegm that is difficult to expectorate, nausea, vomiting, loss of sense of smell, loss of taste, loss of appetite and general decline.
Patients with a Severe Condition
Overall, 25 patients were reported to have been treated by 1/3 of the homeopaths. The criteria for assessing a condition as severe were damage to the lung tissue, severe pneumonia, deficient oxygen saturation, general collapse, liver problems, renal failure due to dehydration, myocarditis, pericarditis, heart failure or atrial fibrillation that began near diagnosis. Based on the feedback of those who reported treatments in such conditions, the success rate ranges from ‘excellent’ (in 15% of cases) to ‘very good’ (38.5%) and to ‘moderate’ (23.1%). 23% of respondents who treated severe conditions reported not seeing any improvement in the patients’ condition.
In 43% of the cases, treatment of the severe condition lasted up to two weeks, and in 26% of cases up to a month. In 8.7% of cases, treatment lasted up to a week and in other cases patients did not persevere. With regard to patients who were hospitalized due to the clinical severity and later received homeopathic treatment, 38% were hospitalized for a period of up to two weeks, and about 15% were hospitalized for up to a month. The success of inpatient care was defined as ‘very good’ to ‘excellent’ in about 70% of cases.
Patients in Recovery Stages
Nearly half of the homeopaths reported having treated patients at various stages of the recovery process from COVID-19 infection. Recovery in this context meaning a stage in which the condition has already improved before the homeopathic treatment began, yet still involves symptoms such as significant fatigue, significant cough and the like. In total, there were 88 reports of such a condition, out of which a ‘very good’ to ‘excellent’ improvement rate was reported in 85% of the cases.
Patients Re-experiencing the Chronic Condition
Such a stage was defined as a process where the chronic picture is already evident or intermingled with certain COVID-19 symptoms. Homeopathy was given to 59 patients at this stage and the results were assessed as ‘very helpful’ and ‘ excellent’ in 73% of the cases.
This survey offers a real-time glimpse into the invaluable potential of homeopathy in times of a major health crisis, and echoes with similar statistics from previous epidemics as early as the beginning of the 19th century[iii]. The current demand for homeopathy in Israel seems to be significantly increased, with as many as 58% more patients calling – certainly something to take into consideration in a challenging era for the profession.
Reported clinical results seem impressive – yet might be interpreted as preaching to the converted. On the one hand, we homeopaths know the potential of the profession – and warmly remember D.A. Dewey’s dramatic documentation of the Spanish Flu period in his “Homoeopathy in Influenza – a Chorus of Fifty in Harmony”. On the other hand, control groups need to be meticulously compared against the reports of homeopaths.
All of these aspects should be viewed in the context of an understanding of the limitations of a retrospective examination. Future surveys might bring up more elaborate data in terms of volume of respondents and the delving into specifics of treatments.
The survey, not being a prospective study, has not used probability sampling technique but rather relied on the homeopaths’ cooperation. It therefore couldn’t use any randomized allocation, nor were there any control groups.
Such control groups require a careful segmentation based on each age and medical background of the patients. Future surveys will also need to delve deeper also into the ongoing results of the coronavirus pandemic and in particular its post-viral phase, which is lately proving to be more significant than previously thought.
Based on the results, recent experience in Israel might contribute to the revival of the profession in showing its efficacy both in acute conditions and its sequelae. Surveys take some know-how, some willingness, an infrastructure for the hotline(s) to offer a homeopathic assistance by professionals and a data collecting person. Its next challenge might deepen the understanding of the homeopathic effect on the coronavirus sequelae, by monitoring the long-term effects after tests confirm the disappearance of the virus.
I wish to thank all the volunteers on the hotlines and to the respondents who shared their experience in that survey. Many thanks to Jeremy Sherr for his willingness to share the criteria for assessing the severity of the coronavirus conditions. Jeremy Sherr is leading a global project to treat the victims of COVID-19 and its Israeli arm is called HHNI.
[i] According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, https://www.cbs.gov.il/en/Pages/default.aspx
[ii] It is difficult to assess whether they practice full time, part time or perhaps have stopped practice.