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 Malariology Antimalarial drugs and drug resistant parasites
Former soldiers have expressed disappointment at the results of an ADF inquiry into mefloquine. Photo: ADF/Corporal Hamish Paterson
Timor veterans condemn ADF inquiry clearing military of wrongdoing in anti-malaria drug trial

Australian military veterans are vowing to redouble their effort to win a battle against the Defence Force over trials of a controversial anti-malaria drug.

After a yearlong inquiry into claims that diggers were used as human guinea pigs in the trials, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) absolved itself of any wrongdoing. Mefloquine, also known as lariam, was a frontline drug against the tropical disease in the 1980s before its side effects became known. Up to 5,000 ADF personnel insist they were effectively ordered to take the drug, well after the military should have known the risks. The side effects include depression, anxiety, confusion, and hallucinations. A number of suicides by former soldiers have been blamed o­n the drug, which is now regarded as a medicine of last resort. Former commanding officer of 1 RAR (1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment) Ray Martin is based in the army town Townsville. He said many former soldiers were disappointed by the results of the report passed down by the Inspector General of the ADF today.

Key points:

The ADF has absolved itself of any wrongdoing

Former commanding officer says many former soldiers are disappointed by the results

Colonel disputes the report's claims that no soldier was forced to take the drug

"We had people in effectively long-term psychiatric care here and around the country," he said. "I've spoken to o­ne of them this morning o­n his immediate reaction to that report, and he, and I know many others, are kind of devastated."

Trial conducted 'ethically and lawfully'

The ADF established an inquiry last year to consider allegations that soldiers heading to Timor in 1999 underwent a dangerous experiment to test the usefulness of mefloquine.

It was prompted by complaints from Major Stuart McCarthy, who suffers from an illness that he said was caused by taking mefloquine.

Today the inquiry found the "drug trials were conducted ethically and lawfully", that soldiers volunteered to participate, and that anyone who was sick could be treated for free.

The report said very few people became ill and "there were very few severe adverse events in the control group using mefloquine during the trial".

Colonel Ray Martin may be the most senior soldier to express public outrage at the findings.

"My particular interest is as a former senior officer in the army, I also feel like I have a duty of care to some of my former soldiers, you know, and friends who were affected by this," he said.

Colonel Martin said he believed there were probably hundreds of soldiers affected across the country.

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"Up to about 5,000 people took these drugs in Timor, Bougainville and some other places in the ADF," he said.

"Different surveys have said between 10 and 30 per cent, so up to 20 per cent might be affected, so here, that's absolutely hundreds of people."

The report makes multiple claims that no soldier was forced to take the drug, but that is not how Colonel Martin remembers the military.

"Many people were very concerned about informed consent aspects of the trial, and the reality is in the military hierarchy this is not a good place to conduct medical trials because ... effectively you sign away most of your rights when you join up in the military and you trust those that give you orders, directions or requests," he said.

"If someone says to you, like when I joined the army or other people join the Defence Force, you put your arm out and you get a whole range of needles in your arm, you don't really ask about that, that's what you are given."

Veterans argue that drug trial veterans still need recognition, proper diagnosis and effective rehabilitation.


(Source: http://www.abc.net.au)  


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