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3,249 people killed, 225,551 injured and over $288,390,000 in economic damages

Philippine Daily Inquirer

May 25, 2002


By Raul C. Dancel

The country's leading association of ophthalmologists has issued a warning against a "scam" involving an unproven clinical method that, it says, has resulted in the deaths of at least two people and duped hundreds of overseas Filipino workers.

Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology Inc. (PAO) chair Ma. Dominga Padilla warned the public not to fall for a method of diagnosing physical ailments and diseases known as iridology.

Iridology--also referred to as iris diagnosis--stems from a belief that the iris of the eye can be used to diagnose and treat, using tonics and herbs, a number of diseases, including diabetes and cancer.

"Iridology is a pseudo-science that we are asking the government to regulate," Padilla told the Inquirer.

"The mushrooming of so-called iridologists has resulted in a growing number of patients who have been medically mismanaged, leading to devastating economic and health consequences for these hapless individuals," she said.

Treatments stopped

Padilla said that at least two people had died after they went to an iridologist to seek treatment.

Padilla said one had insulin-dependent diabetes who was advised to discontinue her insulin treatment and instead use tonics and herbal preparations. Another had ovarian cancer and had her treatment delayed upon her iridologist's advice.

The first patient went into a coma and died, while the other eventually sought professional medical advice, but by then it was too late.

Iridology is not the "wonder cure" that its adherents profess it to be, said Padilla.

"We have seen patients with optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve) who were made to buy thousands of pesos worth of tonic drinks and vitamins from iridologists only to have their conditions worsen," she said.

She added that there were glaucoma patients who went blind because they were told to stop their medication.

"Latest scientific evidence based on an extensive systematic review of iridology has shown that iridology is not a useful diagnostic tool, and that it has the potential to do damage in economic and health terms," Padilla said.

Citing a paper by physician Edzard Ernst of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom that appeared in the scientific journal ''Research in Complementary Medicine,'' Padilla said even advocates of alternative medicine were writing off iridology as a useful diagnostic tool.

Inconclusive tests

According to Quackwatch Inc., a US-based nonprofit corporation whose purpose is to combat health-related frauds, myths, fads and fallacies, tests conducted on iridology have so far been inconclusive.

In 1979, three leading iridologists failed a test in which they were asked to determine who out of 143 persons had kidney ailments. Forty-eight had been diagnosed with ailments while the rest had normal kidneys.

One iridologist said 88 percent of the normal patients had kidney disease, while another said 74 percent of patients sick enough to need kidney treatment were normal.

More recently, five leading Dutch iridologists failed a similar test in which they were shown stereo color slides of the right iris of 78 people, half of whom had gallbladder disease. None of the five could distinguish between patients with gallbladder disease and those who were healthy. Nor did their diagnoses match.

Victimizing OFWs

Padilla said PAO wants the government to regulate both physicians and non-physicians using iridology "to protect our people from its potential hazards."

"This scam has been made worse by the fact that it is happening right under the nose of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration," she said.

Padilla disclosed that several iridology clinics had been offering an P11,000-cure for color blindness-an untreatable congenital condition-to seamen desperate to land a job abroad.

"We have no problem with them (iridologists) offering herbs and tonics and false hopes, but when they start convincing their patients to withdraw medication or treatment, that's another story," Padilla said.

The Department of Health is forming a task force to determine whether iridology can be accepted as an alternative method of diagnosing physical ailments and diseases.

Dr. Alfonso Lagaya, head of the health department's Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health, told the Inquirer the task force will try to determine whether iridology is safe, effective and inexpensive enough to be widely used.

It might take two to six months for the task force to complete its study and come up with its recommendations, he said.

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