This article has been published in the South African Journal of Natural Medicine in October 2010.
Homoeopathy is a well establish and effective system of medicine, with increasing demand both nationally and internationally. Homoeopaths in South Africa are trained within the context of the medical paradigm, and are considered primary health care practitioners. First line therapy with a safe and effective form of natural treatment, managed by a professional with the ability to refer to a specialist if required, should be the starting point for almost every medical complaint for every age group.
What is Homoeopathy?
Stemming from the Greek roots Homoios (meaning ‘like’) and Pathos (meaning ‘suffering’), homeopathy is a medical system that utilises the principle of ‘like cures like’. Essentially, this entails that any substance that would cause a set of symptoms in a healthy person, will be indicated in the treatment of a similar set of symptoms in a sick person . Coupled with this, individuality and susceptibility are important considerations in the specific treatment by a homoeopath. The correct choice of homeopathic medicine is dependent on an in depth analysis of each individual patient. Therefore, when presented with 10 different insomniac patients, for example, a homeopath will very likely treat each patient with a different remedy, unique to the individual. This is an important consideration when deciding to self-treat with homeopathy and in seeking homeopathic advice from untrained and unregistered persons (and health shops), as individuality is central to the selection of effective treatment. It is also important to differentiate homeopathy from other modalities of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
Homoeopathic Training and Registration in South Africa
Local and international demand for homeopathy has grown exponentially over the past 30 years. This demand resulted in the creation of formalised training in South Africa, which is closely aligned with the training of medical doctors, and is recognised as an ‘education of excellence’ both nationally and internationally . Currently, the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) offer degree’s in homoeopathy. This involves a 5-year full-time theoretical and practical training course, followed by a Master’s level research project. After fulfilment of these criteria, a Master’s Degree in Technology (Homoeopathy) is awarded. The course comprises of a strong core of medical subjects, such as the basic sciences of Anatomy, Physiology, Medical Microbiology, Biochemistry and Epidemiology, and the clinical sciences of Pathology and Diagnostics. This is complemented with subjects in Classical, Clinical and Modern Homoeopathy and Homoeopharmaceutics [4;5]. The outline of this course is unique, as no other country offers comprehensive medical training alongside homeopathic training, and thus a registered homoeopath in South Africa is legally considered a Primary Health Care Professional.
By law, any person practicing homeopathy in South Africa must be registered with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA). This is essential, as the Council ensures both medical, diagnostic and homeopathic competency of practitioners, and that the activities of registered practitioners are closely monitored by the Professional Board. The purpose of the AHPCSA is to ensure that only those with legitimate qualifications of a high enough standard are registered and allowed to practice in South Africa, thus protecting the public against any fraudulent behaviour and illegal practitioners. Therefore, in order for effective homeopathic treatment, it is essential to be aware that any person wishing to prescribe homeopathic medicine or practice homeopathy in South Africa must be registered as a Homoeopathic Practitioner with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa. This includes conventional Medical Practitioners (dual registration is allowed for Medical Practitioners with both the Health Professions Council and AHPCSA) , as homeopathy requires several years of training in order to apply effectively in clinical practice. You can confirm registration of your homeopathic practitioner by requesting their registration number and contacting the AHPCSA directly.
A homoeopath as a Primary Healthcare Practitioner
Registration with the Council affords medico-legal rights similar to those of a medical professional, where treatment is limited to the scope of homeopathic practice. Thus a homeopath is firstly a trained diagnostician, and with successful registration with the Council, obtains the title Doctor. A homeopath is trained and legally obliged to conduct a full medical history, a comprehensive clinical examination, and request further medical investigations, such as blood tests and X-rays, in order to fully assess patients. This is coupled with the ability to consult with specialist pathologists and other medical specialists when necessary, and refer a patient to the appropriate practitioner if the condition falls outside the scope of homeopathic practice. A homoeopath may also legally issue a certificate of dispensation (‘Doctor’s note’) with appropriate evidence and within reason, and is deemed responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of patients under their care .
A homeopath is not trained or licensed in any form of surgery, specialist diagnostics (e.g. colonoscopy or angiograms), cannot prescribe prescription medication and is not lawfully allowed to conduct intra-venous treatment of any kind. However, a registered homeopath is licensed to use intra-muscular homeopathic injectables in the treatment of various local or systemic complaints when necessary.
Homoeopathy as First Line Treatment
Conventional (allopathic) medicine generally targets specific biochemical processes with mostly chemically synthesised medication, in an attempt to suppress a symptom. However, in doing so, this usually negatively affects other biochemical reactions which results in an imbalance within the system. Homeopathy, by contrast, seeks to re-establish a balance within the natural functioning of the body, restore proper function and results in the reduction or cessation of symptoms. Homoeopathy therefore facilitates the body to self-regulate and self-heal, a process known as homeostasis that is intrinsic to every living organism.
Conventional medical treatment is by no means risk free. Iatrogenic (medically induced) deaths in the United States are estimated at 786 000 per year, deaths which are considered avoidable by medical doctors [7;8]. These figures put annual iatrogenic death in the American medical system above that of cardiovascular disease and cancer as the leading cause of death in that country , a fact that is not widely reported! South African figures are not easily available, but it is likely that we have similar rates. Although conventional medications have a vital role, are sometimes necessary and can of-course be life-saving, all too often too many patients are put on chronic medication when there are numerous effective, natural, safe and scientifically substantiated options available. These include, amongst others, lifestyle and dietary changes, adequate nutrition and supplementation, herbal treatment and homoeopathy – all requiring specific training for adequate, safe and effective implementation.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), homeopathy is the second largest system of medicine in the world, and world-wide use continues to grow in developed and developing nations . Homeopathy is widely considered to be safe and effective, with both clinical and laboratory research providing evidence indicating the treatment is effective . Homeopathy should therefore be considered a first-line therapy for all ages in South Africa. As homeopaths in South Africa are legally recognised primary health care practitioners, if a conventional approach is deemed necessary, and further diagnostics are required, your practitioner will not hesitate to refer you to the appropriate health care practitioner. Homeopathy is also used alongside conventional medicine and any other form of therapy, and should be seen as ‘complementary’ medicine and not ‘alternative’ medicine.
In order to open a practice, a registered homeopath must acquire a practice number through the Board of Health Care Funders (BHF), which is the representative organisation for the majority of medical schemes throughout South Africa. Most medical aids will offer reimbursement for consultations and treatment conducted by a registered homeopathic provider .
Homoeopathy is an approach that is widely considered to be safe, and when utilised correctly, can be effective for a wide range of conditions. As a primary health care practitioner, a homeopath is able to handle all aspects of general practice and family health care, including diagnostics, case management and referral to other practitioners or medical specialists. A registered homeopath is legally responsible to ensure the adequate treatment of their patients, and is accountable for all clinical decisions and advice. A registered homeopath understands the role of conventional medicine, and will refer to the appropriate specialist in cases that fall outside the legal scope of practice.
This information is based on Dr Kristian Leisegangs article entitled ‘The Homeopath – A Primary Health Care Practitioner?’. This was published in the South African Journal of Natural Medicine in October 2010.
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