What would $34 billion of Quack money buy you?

pile-of-money Today the US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has issued a report that shows that Americans spend $33.9 billion out-of-pocket on complementary and alternative medicine per year.

This is the figure that people spend on such things as homeopathy ($3B), yoga and qi gong ($4B) and non vitamin supplements ($15B). The report does not include purchases of vitamin and mineral supplements and estimates suggest this could triple this spend.

The NCCAM has spent nearly a billion pounds on researching CAM and has failed to demonstrate the efficacy of any complementary medicine. Yes, its all quackery and these Americans are wasting their money.

So, $34 billion is a big number. Let’s try to put that into perspective:

  • Achieving the the WHO–UNICEF Global Immunization Vision and Strategy for 2006–2015 would cost US$35 billion over those years. Children throughout the world need not die of measles, diphtheria, polio and other killers.
  • Putting all America 3 and 4 year old children through preschool education and thus reducing the need for remedial and special education, welfare and criminal justice services would cost $25 billion to $39 billion.
  • Nearly 46 million Americans do not have health insurance and do not have the access to health care services that the rest of the civilised world enjoys. $34 billion would ensure there was cover for the uncompensated care that hospitals deliver every year. It would also provide about a third of these people with good health insurance cover.
  • To reach the United Nations Development Programme Millennium Development Goals of halving the proportion of people without access to safe water or sanitation worldwide by 2015 about $30 billion needs to be spent annually.
  • More than one billion people in the world could have about a 10% pay rise as they only earn a dollar a day.

  • There are 7 million people in Sub Saharan African in need of antiretroviral treatment. Costs of HAART can be as much as $400 per month. Supplying this treatment would cost $35 billion per year.

  • Malaria kills several million each year, the majority being children in Africa. It has been estimated that only $3 billion could bring this under control, sparing another $12 billion to remove the economic impact of lost work days, lost education and lack of development in malarial areas.

I am glad we have our priorities sorted out.

21 Comments on What would $34 billion of Quack money buy you?

  1. Not, of course that anyone in the pampered, worried-well world would ever dream of re-routing this money – the problem is never money – it's getting people to see what being human should mean.

  2. Good gripe and finger pointing! Now pose a real solution to getting people to change their behavior. The key is to change yours first. Did you go to the doctor, buy vitamins, any herbs, take a vacation, eat at a restaurant, buy clothes you wanted but did not need, drink anything except water all year? You see where I am going with this. I agree more could be done – in the words of the song sung by Michael Jackson – look at the man in the mirror and make the change.

  3. I think a better comparison would be something like: a 1% tax on alt med products would reap $339,000,000 of funding with which they could prove their efficacy. That's not too far from what the Wellcome hands out each year!

    In other words, I'm tired of the bullshit argument that CAM is a poor little cottage industry that can't afford proper trials.

  4. How many Americans without medical insursance use CAM on the grounds it seems cheaper and offers hope (albeit false hope)?

  5. "How many Americans without medical insurance use CAM on the grounds it seems cheaper and offers hope (albeit false hope)?"

    How many insurance companies offer to pay for CAM on the grounds that it is cheaper and offers hope (albeit the hope that the insured party will die before they use a lot of expensive treatments)?

  6. Dear canard noir if you are so concerned about world poverty and hunger in africa, why don't you join the red cross and go and do some good work to help these people instead of wasting your time campaigning against alternative medicine.
    People who want to spend their money on alternative treatment will continue to do so, and do not give a toss about you and your campaign.
    Do something useful and constructive, go and drive a food supply truck in bukina faso

  7. "Do something useful and constructive, go and drive a food supply truck in bukina faso"

    Except, of course, for telling other people that they should not tell other people what to do, don't tell other people what to do.

    I'll let that sink in for a moment.

    And, if you think it's so useful and constructive to drive a food supply truck in bukina faso, why don't you go and drive a food supply truck in bukina faso?


  8. And of course I am not telling other people what to do although I guessed that the quacks would think I was.

    I am merely highlighting the unimaginably huge amount of money spent in the US on quackery – treatments that are at best simple placebos, and at worst dangerous and fraudulent – and comparing that amount of money with what it could do with people in desperate need of effective healthcare.

  9. can you calculate also the amount of money spent on unproven drugs (such as indigestion tablets, cold remedies, weight loss tablets, sleep aids etc) that are marketed and sold by the major pharmaceutical compagnies; if you add this to your 33 billions and you can probably feed a few starving countries of africa for a little while.
    You remind me of Don Quixote de la Mancha; you too are chasing windmills

  10. Dear brave anonymous. You appear to be rather upset, confused and have a simplistic view of the world.

    What makes you think I am not aware that the pharmaceutical companies are not profiting in this $34 billion american quackery? Look at companies like NYBT, Roche, Aventis and so on have been profiting (and sometimes profiteering) from food supplement sales. It does not matter one jot if is a lone homeopath or a multi billion pharma co flogging useless treatments. Its all quackery.

  11. "Tilting at windmills", "Tilting", Anonymous

    "You remind me of Don Quixote de la Mancha; you too are chasing windmills"………however touched the old Don was, he didn't chase windmills, they don't tend to go anywhere.
    Could this be an example of confused thinking – without the excuse of the Don that he was pursuing chivalry?

  12. What about what people spend on alcohol, nicotine, excess food, fancy food, fancy clothes, fancy housing, holidays, luxury cars, luxury anything… infact anything more than basic survival requirements? Perhaps much of that $34 billion is spent on treatments that make people feel better. Not physically getting better but subjectively feeling better. That might not be job of the physician (although it calls at their door a lot) but is of concern to the individual.
    These sort of "mega-placebos" (see Dylan Evans: Placebo) are very good at making people feel better. I don't see how we can argue with that. Certainly anything getting someone to move and breath better – yoga, qi-going, pilates, alexander technique etc – seems hard to criticise. How about all the money people spend at gyms, tennis clubs, little league, golf clubs?
    Aren't many of these very therapeutic for the individual concerned? I continually see clients who are having panic attacks or insomnia once they have stopped regularly exercising (e.g. from a hip replacement).

    I completely agree that most nutritional supplements are a waste of money and I deplore the "you've got parasites" parasites. And in many cases the behaviours of taking lots of supplements or visiting the therapist each week are maintaining the ongoing low level anxiety of the worried well.

    Or they could have a drink? Or a round of golf?

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