Former soldier suffers after taking anti-malaria drug
Toronto Sun - Dec. 18, 2016
BY CHRIS DOUCETTE
Dave Bona suspected for decades it was the anti-malaria drug he was forced to take while serving in Africa that cost him his military career and left him struggling with neurological and psychological issues.
So when when he was finally diagnosed with Mefloquine neurotoxicity a few months ago, the 49-year-old was relieved.
At least now the former paratrooper, who served with the Canadian Airborne Regiment in Somalia and Rwanda, understood why treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder were not relieving many of his debilitating symptoms.
“There have been periods where I was OK and happy, but for the bulk of the time I was trapped in a depressive state,” Bona said, explaining his daily suicidal thoughts, vertigo, seizures and other issues began long before he was kicked out of the Canadian Forces in 1999.
“I honestly don’t know how I’ve survived,” he added.
Bona wants other veterans to know Mefloquine neurotoxicity can mimic and amplify PTSD.
He has seen “significant improvements” recently with Loreta, a neurofeedback therapy designed for brain injuries.
Military sticks with controversial drug
Despite reports of veterans’ lives being ruined — even lost — after taking Mefloquine, the Canadian Forces will continue to rely on the controversial drug for malaria prevention.
But when our military is deployed on its latest UN mission to Africa in 2017, soldiers will be able to choose to take Doxycyline or Malarone as an alternative.
“As it stands now, it continues to be one of three first line drugs we’ll be using,” Canadian Forces physician Lt.-Col. Andrew Currie said recently.
Earlier this fall, veterans shared tragic stories in front of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs in Ottawa, explaining they still suffer psychological and neurological side effects more than 20 years later.
That prompted Canada’s chief of defence staff to request a reassessment of the drug.
A month later, Currie said the review is done and Mefloquine remains the best choice for malaria prevention.
“We have to follow the science,” he said. “So we looked at group studies not individual cases.”
Currie claims recent studies suggest the risk of serious adverse reactions remains “quite low,” between 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 14,000.
“The intent has always been to protect the soldiers against a potentially deadly disease,” he said. “But as with any medication, you have to weigh risk versus benefit.”
About 18,000 soldiers have been prescribed Mefloquine since 1992.
Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall has been in touch with more than a dozen struggling veterans and was “not pleased” the review wrapped up “so quickly.”
“If you look at the world view right now, we are definitely not in line with our allies,” she said, noting a former head of the British army even apologized recently to troops who took Mefloquine under his command when he was unwilling to take the drug.
Canada out of step with allies
With several allied countries now either banning Mefloquine or only giving it to soldiers as a last resort, an expert on the anti-malaria drug is urging Canada to follow suit.
“For nearly 25 years, Canadian officials have hid their heads in the sand,” Dr. Remington Nevin, of Johns Hopkins University, said recently. “It’s a real scandal and it’s quite tragic.”
Nevin, a dual citizen born in Toronto, served as a doctor with the U.S. military in Afghanistan in 2007 where he witnessed the dangerous side effects of Mefloquine on American and Canadian soldiers.
As a leading authority on anti-malarials, he has a keen interest in the Somalia Affair.
In 1993, Canadian soldiers serving in the troubled country, beat a Somali prisoner to death. Nevin said the subsequent inquiry that was shut down prematurely in 1996 should be re-opened.
“You can’t understand the history of Mefloquine use in the Canadian Forces without looking at the critical problems in Somalia,” Nevin said. “Those soldiers were unwitting participants in a fraudulent study.
“It is incredible (no government or military officials) have been disciplined, fired or prosecuted for the events of that era,” he added.
Mefloquine, also known as Lariam, was first used as a malaria treatment by the U.S. military in the ’70s after being hastily approved by the FDA without human trials. In 1989, the U.S. began using the drug for prevention.
Nevin said some side effects of Mefloquine were well known in 1993 when the Canadian military accessed the unlicensed drug through an “experimental trial” for Somalia.
“The Canadian Forces agreed to carefully monitor soldiers but they did not,” he said, explaining Health Canada licensed the drug soon after.
He pointed out in August the Canadian supplier of the drug, AA Pharma, updated its warning for Mefloquine acknowledging hallucinations, paranoia, psychotic behaviour, vertigo, suicide and other adverse reactions may persist years after use.
Dave Bona, one of 900 or so Canadian Airborne Regiment members forced to take Mefloquine before it was licensed, is among the soldiers struggling with some of those side effects.
He recently reached out to former platoon members and of the 10 he contacted, two had killed themselves, six attempted suicide and only one was doing well.
Nevin said that suggests the rate of adverse reactions is much higher than the 1 in 11,000 number Canadian officials cling to.
Mefloquine is now also commonly used by travellers.
But Nevin believes Doxycycline and Malarone are safer options, even though both are more expensive and must be taken daily rather than weekly.
http://www.torontosun.com/2016/12/18/fo ... laria-drug
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