In the aftermath of the announcement that the government will remove the 30% private insurance rebate for alternative medicines found to be ineffective, last Saturdays Adelaide Advertiser carried a double page spread on the issue. The first comment was from a naturopath:
“the primary aim is that the patients stay well, and that’s more and more the province of the natural therapist rather than the GP or the orthodox medical system”
This got me reflecting, while staring at a “sometimes foods” poster stuck on the side of a sweets vending machine in the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, “more and more”? I’d like to see some evidence of that. Orthodox preventative medicine incorporates a broad swathe of interventions, many of which don’t look like medicine, and so aren’t immediately apparent.
What Preventative Medicine Looks Like
The provision of clean, potable water is a massive governmental enterprise, which most of us don’t see working, but has saved literally millions of lives. Growing up in Queensland, prevention of mosquito borne disease involved a range of governmental Mosquito control schemes from releasing mosquito fish in waterways to control mosquito larvae to public education so that people could eliminate mosquito breeding areas in their homes and gardens.
Consider smoking, the fall in smoking (and heart disease and lung cancer as a result) was due to a coordinated decades long campaign that involved health providers, community support schemes, advertising (both the awareness of health effects and where you could go to help quit) and legislative instruments controlling cigarette advertising and packaging. The role of Naturopaths in this massive public preventative health campaign was rather small.
Consider good nutrition and exercise, these are central elements in Naturopathy. But despite Naturopaths enthusiasm for good nutrition and exercise, promoting this is a massive effort involving all health care providers and and governmental instrumentalities.
From the various public health campaigns (remember Life be In It and Norm? Now we have the balloon people exhorting us to eat well and exercise more on TV and the sides of buses, the “Walk to School” campaign to get kids exercising more) to various legislative instruments (from the changes to tuckshop rules in schools to promote healthy choices, the “sometimes foods” labelling campaign, nutritional labelling on foods). Promotion of healthy eating and exercise is a large scale program.
Despite the importance of nutrition and exercise to Naturopaths, and their enthusiastic promotion of the same, to claim an increasing role for Naturopaths compared to the orthodox system is, well, sheer day dreaming. But there is more.
A Preventative Health Strategy without Vaccination?
If Naturopaths want to be considered as a serious partner in promoting preventative medicine they need to confront vaccination. Vaccination is one of our greatest preventative tools against infectious disease. Deaths from diphtheria, tetanus and Haemophillus Influenza B have plummeted following vaccination, the great killer smallpox is extinct, the crippling disease polio is almost extinct. Yet historically, Naturopathy was firmly opposed to vaccination.
These days the situation is more ambiguous, there are several Naturopathy organizations in Australia. Some don’t mention vaccination at all, some “balance” authoritative vaccination information sites with vaccine disinformation sites and still others present only misinformation (see also here). Preventative medicine is more than eating well and getting exercise. If Naturopathy wants to play an important role in preventative medicine, they need to come to terms with vaccination.
I leave you with this link to an alleged “infographic”, I am mildly amused that the Large Hadron Collider is seen as one of the top threats to humanity, and “weaponised” vaccines?
The site hosting the infographic isn’t one guy and his dog ranting though, this is one of the major natural therapies websites and referred to by the Australian Natural Therapists Association for vaccine information. I’d like to see the naturopathy community speak out against such nonsense. Wouldn’t you?