McGill science group takes aim at pharmacies for selling ‘quack’ flu remedy – Montreal

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A McGill University science communication group is taking aim at a commonly available homeopathic flu remedy and questioning why pharmacies continue to sell what it calls “quack remedies.”

A survey of 150 Montreal pharmacies conducted last month by the McGill Office for Science and Society found that two-thirds of them stocked Oscillococcinum despite the fact that the product “does not work (and) cannot work according to our scientific knowledge,” reads a publication on the office’s website.

READ MORE: Montreal emergency rooms crowded as flu cases spike in time for holiday season

The product, which claims to shorten the duration of flu symptoms, was retailing for $37.99 for a box of 30 doses at a Montreal Jean Coutu pharmacy on Wednesday.

Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic pill that is made by taking the heart and liver of a duck and diluting it until there is no trace left of the organs, according to Jonathan Jarry, a science communicator who helped conduct the study.

Jarry, who has a master’s degree in molecular biology, said he decided to target Oscillococcinum in particular because he considers it the most “egregious” of homeopathic products on the market.

“Nothing in homeopathy really makes any sense or is scientific, but this one because of its high dilution factor is particularly ridiculous,” he said.

Homeopathy, which dates back to 1796, is based on the principle that “like cures like,” or the idea that a disease can be cured by ingesting a low dose of something that produces similar symptoms in a healthy person.

READ MORE: Quebec kicks off flu vaccination campaign amid worries over influenza A

Unlike other herbal or alternative medications, proponents of homeopathy believe that a product becomes more potent the more it is diluted — a principle Jarry says “violates basic laws of physics, biology and chemistry.”

Jarry pointed to overseas studies, including a review of the scientific data on homeopathy published in 2015 by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, which concluded that “there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.”

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But Boiron Canada, the makers of Oscillococcinum, says doctors, pharmacists and patients have been recommending and using the product for decades because it works.

The company provided links to two clinical trials, conducted in 1989 and 1998, which found that patients who were given the product recovered more quickly than those who ingested a placebo.

“We fully support (pharmacies’) decision to respect every Canadian’s fundamental right to choose which products best suit their individual health needs, and we will continue to provide reliable options for consideration through our homeopathic medicines,” the company said in a statement.

READ MORE: Canada having ‘substantial’ flu season so far, off to faster start than last year’s

Jarry says homeopathic products are expensive and could lead people who purchase them to falsely delay seeking needed medical treatment.

He questions why they are being sold by Quebec pharmacists, whose code of ethics requires them to protect the public by steering them towards effective treatment.

A spokeswoman for the Quebec Order of Pharmacists acknowledged that homeopathic products have no “proven scientific value” but said it would be difficult to ban them because they’re regulated by Health Canada as a type of natural health product.

Julie Villeneuve said some pharmacists choose to stock homeopathic products in order to start a dialogue with their clients, but they could face sanctions for promoting them.

“Regardless of the school of thought to which he adheres, the code of ethics is clear: The pharmacist must practice pharmacy according to scientific data,” Villeneuve wrote in a statement.

“Thus, considering the lack of scientific evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy, a pharmacist who encourages a patient to use such products by predicting benefits would be placed in a situation of disciplinary offence.”

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Some 8,500 homeopathic products are approved by Health Canada, which reviews them to ensure they are safe and “are supported by either scientific evidence or other references,” according to the department’s website.

In 2015, Health Canada changed its labelling requirements for homeopathic cough, cold and flu products aimed at children 12 and under, stating that makers could no longer make specific health claims unless they’re supported by scientific evidence.

READ MORE: Canada’s flu season started early this year, and might be hitting kids hard

Loblaws, the parent company of the Pharmaprix chain, said it prefers to allow patients to make their own choices, given that the products are popular and approved for sale.

“Given that these products aren’t prescribed and present no danger to health, the pharmacists-owners of our network have no reason to ban them, especially since an important proportion of their clientele appreciates and requests them,” senior communications director Johanne Heroux said in a statement.

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Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

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A Canadian-led international movement seized with stanching the flow of refugees wants to use an untapped source of cash to address the global crisis: the billions languishing in the frozen bank accounts of dictators and despots.

The proposal will be one of the main recommendations of the World Refugee Council, a self-appointed body of two dozen global political figures, academics and civil-society representatives led by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy.

« We’ve put forward a proposition that where there are frozen assets they should be unfrozen through a proper legal process and reallocated to help the victims of the crime and corruption and instability that the bad guys create, » said Axworthy. « It’s a morality play. The bad guys have to pay to help their victims. »

The World Bank estimates the pool of cash to be worth $10 billion to $20 billion per year, Axworthy said in an interview.

The council was established last year by a Canadian think-tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, to find new ways to deal with the 21st century’s record-setting migration crisis — the 68.5 million displaced people driven from their homes by war, famine and disaster.

The United Nations will turn its attention to solving the problem at a special session later this fall, and the council plans to offer its input, using the weight of the last Canadian foreign minister to chair a Security Council meeting.

The UN has acknowledged in stark terms that as the number of homeless and stateless people continues to grow around the globe, their suffering is increased by the shrinking pool of money available to help them.

‘Proceeds put for the public good’

Axworthy says there are fundamental structural flaws in how the world’s institutions are set up to cope with the unprecedented forced migration of people, and a big one is how the bills are paid. The system is based on charity — the benevolent donations of people, countries and businesses — and is not sustainable, Axworthy said.

An October report by the United Nations refugee agency said it expected to raise 55 per cent of the $8 billion it needs to support refugees and internally displaced people this year.

Axworthy said the courts in several countries can be used to seize funds that have been frozen there. Canada, the United States and Britain have all passed legislation allowing them to impose sanctions on individual human-rights abusers. These « Magnitsky laws » are named after a Russian tax accountant who died in prison after exposing a massive fraud by state officials there.

Lloyd Axworthy, left, is presented with the 30th Pearson Peace Medal by Gov. Gen. David Johnston during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa in May 2017. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The world could start spending the « tens of billions of dollars moulding away in a variety of banks and other places, purloined money from the warlords, from the bad guys, the dictators, the authoritarians, » Axworthy said.

Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and human-rights lawyer who has championed Magnitsky-style legislation, said in a separate interview that these laws can allow to go beyond freezing funds, because once the assets are seized, there’s no point to returning them to their corrupt owners.

« What you want to do is have the proceeds put for the public good, » said Cotler, the founder of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Legal precedent

Canada’s first round of sanctions under its Magnitsky Act targeted people in Russia, South Sudan and Venezuela, including Nicolas Maduro, the South American country’s president.

The refugee council’s most recent report, released last month, focused on the displacement of millions of people from Venezuela. That report urged the United States to take a leading role in seizing billions of « ill-gotten » assets in the country, including the $2 billion that the U.S. Treasury Department estimates has been stolen from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.

Fen Hampson, who co-wrote the report and is head of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, suggested governments need to go beyond their various Magnitsky laws to repurpose the seized assets of « Maduro and some of his henchmen … to help victims and the host countries that are reeling under this growing refugee and migration crisis. »

Watch: Russia upset over Canada’s Magnitsky Act

The Magnitsky Act, named after a Russian lawyer and auditor who was arrested on trumped-up charges and died in prison, has Russia threatening retaliation against Canada. The proposed law targets those responsible for human rights abuses and corruption. 2:15

The report said there is legal precedent to do this: a civil case against the son of the dictatorial leader of Equatorial Guinea resulted in a $30-million judgement, $20 million of which was later used by a charity to help the country’s people.

In Yemen, where most of the inhabitants of the port city of Hodeida were forced to flee Friday as Saudi Arabia’s three-year war on Shiite rebels continued, the UN World Food Program’s country director said a massive cash influx is needed to repair the battered economy and feed a population on the verge of starvation.

Stephen Anderson said it’s up to others, higher up in the UN, to decide whether that money should be siphoned from a warlord’s frozen bank account.

« We’re 100-per-cent voluntary funded, » Anderson said. « The economic issues need to be addressed urgently because that’s affecting the entire population of Yemen. They were the poorest in the Middle East before the conflict so there’s no safety net. »

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