What is homeopathy?

Homeopathy (British spelling ~ homoeopathy) is a system of medicine based on the principle of ‘like cures like’. Minute doses of natural and synthetic substances are attenuated to act as a stimulating factor for healing. Simply, homeopathy encourages the body’s own natural healing ability through the use of homeopathic preparations (medicines / remedies). These medicines are prescribed on the basis that it will treat the disease that is similar to the clinical presentation when the remedy or raw material that it is made of is administered to a healthy person.

Is homeopathy safe?

Homeopathy lays claim to being one of the safest therapeutic systems since it does not bombard the body with chemicals that can sometimes be toxic. Instead it uses the body’s own healing ability in order to treat the disease. The minute doses used in homeopathy are not toxic and can be safely used in pregnant women and babies. It does not run the risk of drug interactions and adverse reactions seen with pharmaceutical drugs. Although the symptoms of the disease can sometimes aggravate momentarily, homeopathy does not cause the disease to worsen.

Does homeopathy treat only the symptoms?

With a thorough understanding of homeopathy, it is evident that homeopathy does not treat the disease nor the symptoms of the disease. Instead it treats the patient by stimulating the body’s healing ability to overcome the illness. Diseases arise with disturbances in the body’s delicate balance known as homeostasis. Homeopathy aims to restore homeostasis to ensure that the body can then function at its peak and restore health. The disease can be overcome and the symptoms will then resolve.

Is homeopathy a natural system of medicine?

Natural medicine is a popular term coined for the use of healing substances derived from nature. It is often used to refer to complementary medicine or alternative therapies. Homeopathic remedies are not only made from herbs. It uses a wide range of substances from nature and synthetic sources as the basis for homeopathic preparations.

Homeopathy is a complementary system of medicine that is often seen as an alternative to mainstream medicine (allopathy). However, the role of homeopathy is to work side-by-side with all systems of medicine, both complementary and allopathic. Homeopathy cannot claim to be any more ‘natural’ than herbal medicine (phytotherapy) or conventional medicine (allopathy).

Is homeopathy a recognised system of medicine?

Homeopathy is recognised by the South African Department of Health as a complementary system of medicine. It is also recognised as a therapeutic option by most medical aids in the country. Despite widespread criticism of homeopathy from various different sources, homeopathy has not ceased to exist – not in South Africa nor in other countries across the globe.

Although homeopathy is not represented in the public health sector, it continues to thrive in the private health sector as homeopaths in private practice and homeopathic clinics exist in every province and major city in South Africa. The practice of homeopathy is regulated by the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA) according to the Allied Health Professions Act, 63 of 1982.

Who are homeopaths in South Africa?

Homeopaths in South Africa are healthcare professionals who diagnose, treat and manage patients with homeopathic medicines. South African homeopaths are also allowed to prescribe herbal medicines and utilise clinical nutrition in the treatment and management process. These modalities do not simply include over-the-counter (OTC) homeopathic and herbal remedies or nutritional supplements.

In South Africa, a homeopath is allowed to compound and dispense homeopathic and herbal medicines and is licensed to do so by the Department of Health. It is these medicines that many medical aids pay for whereas OTC preparations may not be covered.

Are homeopaths medical doctors?

South African homeopaths carry the Dr title. Although most are not medical doctors, homeopaths in this country undergo medical training prior to their homeopathic education. The differentiation from a medical doctor (M.D.) is clearly illustrated by the words ‘homeopath’, ‘registered homeopath’ or ‘homeopathic practitioner’ following their professional name.

However, there are also homeopathic education programs for medical doctors who wish to practise homeopathy. Therefore some homeopaths are medical doctors or specialists with homeopathic training. The term ‘homeopathic doctor’ is sometimes used by both homeopaths and medical doctors with homeopathic training.

What qualifications do homeopaths have?

Homeopaths in South Africa are required to have a Master’s Degree in Technology: Homeopathy to practise in the country. It is a 6 year full time programme offered through the University of Johannesburg and Durban University of Technology. Some homeopaths who were practising prior to the commencement of these education programs may have alternative educational training which is currently still recognised in South Africa.

The first 3 years of the current homeopathic training program is focused on the medical sciences such as anatomy, physiology, pathology and pharmacology (allopathic drugs) with formal homeopathic education commencing in the third year of studies. A part time internship is done in the fifth year and continued into the sixth year, along with a community service program.

In order to complete the qualification, all homeopaths are required to conduct a research study and publish a dissertation as part of the Masters program. Homeopaths are also required to complete the Compounding And Dispensing Certificate For Homeopaths through the University of Pretoria (UP) in order to store, mix and dispense homeopathic and herbal medicines. Those homeopaths who do not complete this certificate or opt not to dispense can then prescribe the required medication through homeopathic pharmacies in South Africa.

Who regulates South African homeopaths?

The practise of homeopathy in South Africa is regulated by the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA). It is the only regulatory body for homeopaths in South Africa as mandated by the Department of Health according to the Allied Health Professions Act, 63 of 1982. Any person practising homeopathy without being registered with the AHPCSA is doing so illegally and can be liable for prosecution.

The authority of foreign homeopathic regulatory bodies on its own are not recognised in South Africa without AHPCSA registration. Some homeopaths are also member of the Homeopathic Association of South Africa (HSA) which is a voluntary membership of a professional association.

Although there is a clear distinction in the education and regulation of homeopathic practice in South Africa, there are many “practitioners” claiming to be homeopaths in South Africa. Many do not have any formal education or have done courses in complementary medicine that is not recognised in South Africa.

These individuals are committing a criminal act by practising homeopathy in terms of diagnosing and treating patients as well as dispensing homeopathic medicines or herbal medicines. They do not have AHPCSA registration numbers to practise homeopathy and should be reported to the AHPCSA.

Do medical aids pay homeopaths?

Yes, most medical aids in South Africa pay homeopaths for consultations and medicines. However, the majority of South African homeopaths are not contracted into medical aids. Instead patients are required to pay for homeopathic consultations and medicines in cash and are then reimbursed by the scheme.

A homeopath has a practice number (PR No.) which is necessary when claiming from a medical aid. Furthermore there are specific tariff codes for homeopathic consultations and medicines which a medical aid requires in order to process the statement from a homeopath.

Apart from chiropractors in South Africa, very few other complementary health disciplines have been given this level of recognition by medical schemes. However, some schemes or plans will not pay for homeopathic or herbal medicines which is the prerogative of the medical aid member.

Homeopaths cannot be held liable for non-payment if a patient’s medical aid does not reimburse them for consultations and medication. It is therefore important for patient to clarify with their medical aid as to whether the homeopathic consultation and medicines will be paid for by the scheme.