‘Homeopathy is not medicine’

"You won’t hear me say that it’s good or effective.” Inspector General Jan Huurman states homeopathy is not medicine. "If people want to use herbal remedies, it is at their own risk.” Homeopathy will not be officially recognized in Curaçao, and therefore, says Huurman, it will not be regulated by the inspection.

The Inspector General reveals he is abiding by the wishes of Suzy Camelia-Römer, minister of Public Health, Environment and Nature, to leave it up to the public to seek guidance from an herbalist, or buy products from Harmonia Tienda di Salu or other local health stores.

According to Huurman the efficacy of herbal remedies has not been proven in clinical trials. ,,If people want to turn to homeopathy, that's their own personal choice and responsibility, at least, that's where we are heading. The legislation in Curaçao is outdated and will be modernized, leaving more room for self-determination."

Inspector of Medicines Cleopatra Hazel is quick to point out that many plants are toxic. She refers to the Guide to Complementary & Alternative Medicine she keeps at her desk in the office. Many of the plants and herbs listed have warnings. ,,The use of Senna, for instance, can lead to paralysis of the colon,” Hazel points out. ,,Therefore it should not be used, nor sold. I have put it on a black list of dangerous plants. Local health stores should warn their client about the dangers of senna.”

Senna Alexandrina, a shrubby perennial native to Arabia, was introduced as a laxative to Europe by Arab physicians in the ninth century. Preparations of the plant and its cathartic pods are widely available in Curaçao in the form of a ‘Natural Slimming Tea’. Supermarkets and botika’s offering this and many other herbal products are not subject to supervision of the Inspection. ,,I don’t know what supermarkets sell, exactly, I don’t have time to check everything,” the inspector says. ,,Reading up on all different kinds of herbs and tinctures is a huge task, it requires much more time than is available to me.”

There are 75 ‘dangerous’ plants on Hazel’s list so far. Cascara Sagrada, also a laxative is listed, as well as ginkgo biloba, which promotes blood circulation, but, she warns, could lead to internal bleeding. As it is mentioned in her herbal guide. ,,You just have to be careful, very careful using these ‘remedies’,” says Hazel, who confirms she doesn’t know much about the use of plant derived medications, as in phytotherapy and homeopathy. ,,I studied Pharmacology & Pharmacy, and in my job I prefer to focus on my field of expertise.” She does use herbs herself, the inspector says, ,,but only for taste. I don’t believe that drinking lots of specific herbal teas will cure me of something.”

Plant medicines are the most widely used medicines in the world today. An estimated eighty percent of the world’s population employs herbs as primary medicines. While drugstore shelves in Curaçao are stocked mostly with synthetic remedies, in other parts of the world the situation is quite different. For 5.1 billion people worldwide, natural plant-based remedies are used for both acute and chronic health problems, from treating common colds to controlling blood pressure and cholesterol.

Not so long ago, this was true in Curaçao as well. As late as the 1950’s, many of the larger pharmaceutical companies in the United States still offered a broad variety of plant-based drugs and these were imported in Curaçao. Today plants are the original source materials for as many as 40 percent of the pharmaceuticals in use. When asked about Artemisinin, Hazel responds that she has heard of it. ,,I have reviewed it for the botika, I think.”  Artemisinin is derived from Artemisia annua, also known as sweet wormwood. This is an annual shrub indigenous to China, but able to grow in a wide range of sub-tropical and temperate environments. Its use in treating malaria has been known in China for over 2000 years. The active ingredient, artemisinin, was isolated by Chinese scientists in 1972. Artemisinin‐based combination therapies (ACTs) are now the internationally recommended treatment for P. falciparum malaria, one of the world’s most lethal pests.

Artemisia Annua grows in Curaçao and is sold at Plaza Nobo in Punda. ,,You have to know this to be able to do effective market inspections,” says Hazel. ,,We regularly visit the Plaza Nobo, together with customs officers, police and prosecution to confiscate antibiotics and other pills that are sold there illegally. But herbs have not been examined.” Hazel thinks it will take her a long time to finish her list of dangerous herbs, if ever. According to the World Health Organization around 21.000 plant species have the potential for being used as medicinal plants.