Lord Dannatt, former head of the Army, has apologised to troops who were prescribed the anti-malarial drug Lariam under his command.
Speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, Lord Dannatt admitted he wouldn’t take it and spoke of his family’s experience with the drug.
His son was prescribed the drug by an Army doctor, although he was a civilian, during the 90’s. Speaking to the programme he recalled the effects of Lariam:
“He became extremely depressed, not the person that he would normally be – a very bubbly, personable sort of individual.
“He got very withdrawn, and we got very worried about him.
“If that had been untreated, who knows where it would have gone.”
Lariam has been prescribed to almost 17,000 British troops between 2007 and 2015. The drug Mefloquine, sold under the brand name Lariam, has the potential to cause serious side effects such as anxiety, depression and has been linked to suicide attempts.
The Swiss multinational which produces Lariam, Hoffman-La Roche, stopped marketing it in the US in 2009 following concerns over side effects.
Dannatt said he was “quite content to say sorry” to troops who had been issued Lariam while he headed the Army.
He said that evaluation of the drug’s potentially dangerous side effects had been put on hold between 2003 and 2014 because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanisan, where malaria was not a threat.
When contacted an MoD spokesperson said “The vast majority of deployed personnel already receive alternatives to Lariam and, where it is used, it is only prescribed after an individual risk assessment.
“But we have a duty to protect our personnel from malaria and, as the last defence committee report concluded, in some cases, Lariam will be the most effective way of doing that.
“It continues to be recommended as safe by Public Health England and the World Health Organisation.”
Earlier this year a Defence Select Committee report described the drug as an anti-malarial “drug of last resort” which should never be prescribed unless no other drug is suitable for an individual
Following the report troops who had been prescribed Lariam launched legal action against the MoD over what they describe as “dramatically substandard care”.
A government report into
Philippa Tuckman, a representative for those affected by the drug, said:
“The main problem with MoD’s use of Lariam has been a wholesale failure to follow basic medical guidance.
“Asserting that malaria is a dangerous disease, though true, misses the point. There are alternatives available that don’t have the special problems that Lariam does.
“Since 1997 it has been mandatory for the MoD to issue strong warnings about Lariam and to advise service personnel that if they suffer any side effects they should go to a medic before the next dose is administered so they can be prescribed an alternative. The MoD has also had a responsibility to ensure than no-one with a pre-existing medical condition is given Lariam.
“We have been contacted by hundreds of veterans, and the vast majority tell us that they did not get this advice or support.”