05 Jun 2016
MoD Could Face Civil Cases Over Malaria Drug Use

A committee of MPs says the anti-malarial should be a "last resort" due to reports of severe side effects but the MoD defends it

By Alistair Bunkall, Defence Correspondent

The anti-malarial drug Lariam should be banned from its controversial use in the military, a new report has recommended.

The Defence Select Committee says that Lariam should only be issued as a last resort and only with restrictions.

But the Ministry of Defence has defended its use and hinted that it will continue to prescribe the drug.

The cross-party group of MPs launched an investigation into the drug's use after reports of severe side effects.

One former sailor told Sky News that the drug made him suicidal.

The committee's findings could open the way for hundreds of civil cases from military personnel who have suffered the effects of Lariam.

The Committee's report says that Lariam, which is also known as Mefloquine, should only be issued after a face-to-face assessment has been carried out and if the patient cannot take an alternative.

The troops should always be made aware of other anti-malarial drugs so they can choose which to take, they added.

The committee's chairman, Dr Julian Lewis MP, said the MoD had been irresponsible: "It seems quite clear that not only is the MoD unable to follow the manufacturer's guidelines for prescribing the drug in all instances, but a number of troops discard their Lariam rather than risk its potentially dangerous side effects.

"It is our firm conclusion that there is neither the need, nor any justification for continuing to issue this medication to service personnel unless they can be individually assessed, in accordance with the manufacturers' requirements.

"And - most of the time - that is simply impossible, when a sudden, mass deployment of hundreds of troops is necessary."

The MoD responded by saying: "The vast majority of deployed personnel already receive alternatives to Lariam and, where it is used, we require it to be prescribed after an individual risk assessment.

"We have a duty to protect our personnel from malaria and we welcome the committee's conclusion that, in some cases, Lariam will be the most effective way of doing that."

Major General Alastair Duncan DSO CBE was a commander of British forces in Bosnia and later Chief of Staff for the UN mission in Sierra Leone.

For the past 10 months he has been sectioned in a secure intensive care unit, suffering mental problems that his wife thinks might be linked to the Lariam he took as a soldier.

In December last year, his wife Ellen said she believes it to be "the worst form of friendly fire".

"They join up, they expect risk but they do not expect risk from their own side," she told Sky News.

Maj Gen Duncan's vehicle was blown up when he was serving in Bosnia. Although he wasn't badly injured physically, he was later diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the incident.

His wife believes Lariam he was given prior to the deployment to Sierra Leone in 1999 exacerbated his condition.

"It's not a question of Alastair being a General - they're all soldiers," she said.

"They've all done the same job, they deserve the duty of care that's owed them by their government."

It could now open the way for civil cases to be brought against the Ministry of Defence.

Philippa Tuckman, who represents some of the victims, said: "I think it's great news - very, very good news, holding the MoD to account for some really sloppy prescribing practices which have seriously harmed a large number of our servicemen and women."

The British military no longer gives Lariam to pilots or divers, but continues to issue it to soldiers and sailors.

Most NATO countries have stopped using Lariam but the once-a-week pill is issued to around 2,500 UK military personnel each year in accordance with Public Health England guidelines.