||People. Environment. Democracy. Society. Economy.
Individually we are one drop, together we are an ocean.
|Themes:||Progressive social values, slight libertarian tendencies. Worried about the environment. Big into natural health. Inclined to feel that the science on vaccination is not settled. It is, but I’ve already written that post once this month, and I’m not doing it again.|
||Upper House: NSW, VIC, WA|
|Preferences:||The Health Australia Party has issued a single how to vote card which tells voters to put them first and then to number at least 6 parties above the line or 12 candidates below.|
Policies & Commentary
Since I reviewed Health Australia back in November, I’ll just be reviewing their news page.
There are two press releases or statements in this time, and a scorecard on the major parties and natural medicine.
The scorecard marks the three major parties in ten areas:
- Reinstate private health rebates for natural therapies
- Promote national integrative healthcare model
- Medicare coverage for recognised natural therapies
- Independent agency for natural medicine research
- Maintain GST-free natural medicine consults
- Supports WHO strategy to strengthen role of traditional medicine in healthcare
- Supports traditional medicine claims with a proven history of use
- GST-free ‘practitioner only’ natural medicines
- Fund research into and teach integrative medicine in Australian Universities
- Government directed independent inquiry into NHMRC reviews of natural therapies.
Unsurprisingly, none of the major parties score well on any of these policies. Labor and the Greens don’t support any of these things, and the Liberal Party is willing to maintain GST-free natural medicine consults and to support traditional medicine claims with proven history of use.
And to my mind, this isn’t a bad thing. Because, as I have said before, the term for a natural remedy that has been scientifically tested for safety and efficacy is… conventional medicine. Many natural therapies are harmless, and some have a powerful placebo effect (which is, in my view, a real benefit, and it would be fascinating to know how this works), but that doesn’t make them the best possible medical option. Worse, some natural therapies can interact and interfere with conventional medicines (see, for example, this article by Diabetes Australia), and because they haven’t been tested, these interactions are more unpreditctable. And then there are the risks of relying on natural therapies to treat very serious illnesses. I have read so many sad stories of people dying from treatable cancers because they wanted to avoid ‘toxic’ chemotherapy (yes, of course it’s toxic – the entire point of it is to kill the cancer cells), and tried to stick to natural remedies instead.
The Health Australia Party has a media release titled ‘Health Minister Blunders in Decision Affecting Natural Medicine’. This relates to a recent decision to remove Government Private Health Insurance subsidies for natural therapies.
According to Professor Stephen Myers, Researcher at Southern Cross University, “The major failing of thereview was not to take into account the evidence for the tools of the trade of naturopaths (nutritionalapproaches and supplements, herbal medicine and lifestyle interventions). Yet, medicine accepts thatevidence for drugs and surgery automatically add to the evidence of its effectiveness. Medicine as a discipline would consider such a limited assessment of its practice to be outrageous”.
While the NHMRC/DoH allege no evidence demonstrating the benefits of Naturopathy could be found using their restrictive terms of reference, new research published just days ago by Professor Myers and Vanessa Vigar clearly identified 33 published studies involving 9,859 participants. This clinical research showed Naturopathic medicine was in fact effective for a wide range of chronic conditions including cardiovascular disorders, musculoskeletal pain, type 2 diabetes, PCOS, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, hepatitis C,menopausal symptoms, bipolar disorder, asthma and in increasing cancer survival time.
Hmm. I am extremely dubious about this. The publication (linked here) is a systematic review of research articles from naturopathic journals. I’m not a scientist, so I’m not best placed to judge whether this article really supports this, but here’s what I’ve observed:
- There were six studies of people with cardiovascular conditions who all showed significant benefit from natural medicine treatments – which all included either yoga or exercise, and dietary interventions in addition to naturopathy etc. Conventional treatment also heavily emphasises diet and exercise to treat these conditions, so I suspect that the difference here is longer/more intensive/supportive consultations (which is something natural medicine does tend to do well), which meant that people wound up with diet and exercise regimes that they were better equipped to stick to.
- There were four studies of people with diabetes. One of them showed a ‘dose response relationship between compliance to dietary practices and HbA1c at three months’, two more showed initial improvement but no significant difference at 12 months, and the last doesn’t say what the treatment was but apparently there was some improvement.
- There were seven studies of people with pain and musculoskeletal disorders. Here the successful treatments included relaxation training, psychotherapy and lifestyle advice, physical therapy, acupuncture, massage and chiropracty, as well as diet, herbs, and fasting. The trial for MS, which included only changes of diet and vitamin supplements produced no significant results.
And so forth. In each of these cases, the naturopathic treatments that were effective included large doses of the things that conventional medicine advises, supplemented by some specific herbs or supplements. This *may* validate natural medicines as a good complementary strategy to conventional medicine, but it is hardly robust evidence of its efficacy alone.
Also, there was only a single, retrospective study of cancer patients, which provided almost no information. Treatments were ‘individualized naturopathic treatments’, which is not a lot of information, and it apparently showed ‘prolonged survival’. This is not really sufficient evidence on which to claim that naturopathic evidence increases cancer survival time, and I think it’s a somewhat dishonest statement, frankly.
Last of all, the HAP has an Official Statement on Electromagnetic Radiation and 5G, which begins:
The HAP supports measures to reduce public exposure to any harmful effects of electromagnetic fields and the use of technology that is safe.
They are worried about the 5G network exposing Australians to low levels of exposure to this radiation, which they believe are linked with all sorts of negative health outcomes. Oh dear, and they bring out the old chestnut about electromagnetic radiation and radiofrequency fields being Class 2B carcinogens. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer:
This category is used for agents, mixtures and exposure circumstances for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. It may also be used when there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.
Coffee is on that list. So are pickles. I’m not saying we don’t need to worry at all, I feel as though their phrasing is likely to inspire a bit more fear than is warranted. ANyway, they want to design buildings to reduce exposure to these fields, and they want the safety of 5G to be proven before it is rolled out. I wonder what their standard of proof would be?
Also, they complain that all the research being done on EMEs is by people with vested interests (partnered with the telecommunications industry), and demand that this research be done by independent researchers. This is fair enough, but in the government’s defense, I’d just like to point out that the NHMRC has had a special ticky box on their funding application forms for EME research – which means that if you are doing research into that area, you have a better chance of funding, because there is a separate pool of money for it. So the government is clearly trying to get researchers interested in looking at this, if only (I strongly suspect) in the hope of getting groups like this one to stop going on about it. So far, they don’t seem to have had much luck. Evidently, the research doesn’t look interesting enough to scientists, even with the lure of sweet sweet cash…
Wow, that all got longer than I thought. Sorry about that. Apparently, reading lots and lots and lots of medical research grants means that I absolutely can’t go past a dubious scientific claim without feeling the urge to investigate it.
Anyway. Basically, if you are into natural medicine and think that vaccinations aren’t very important, this is the party for you. If, however, you like science and don’t like parties with frankly misleading party names, you may want to follow my example and place HAP low on the ballot. They have some nice social ideas, but they are cranks.
Eurovision Theme Song as determined by me, very objectively
While Eurovision has a plethora of songs about nature and its beauties, none of them seemed quite right for Health Australia. I was a little bit tempted by ‘Chacun pense à Soi‘ (Everyone thinks of himself), because of their libertarian tendencies and the fact that I find their policies around vaccination to be immensely selfish, but even didn’t really capture what makes the HAP unique.
Fortunately, Latvia really stepped up for me here, with a song that is clearly about homeopathic vaccination.
Show me the source of the light
I’m becoming affected
Seeing the glow of a white
Is what I have detected
Feeling again I’m alive
It’s your shining reflected
Love injected, love injected
I have to say, she sells it better than the HAP do.