Via The Globe and Mail: Canadian Forces firm on anti-malaria drug ahead of Africa mission. Excerpt:
Val Reyes-Santiesteban is convinced she lost a military son to the neuropsychotic side effects of the anti-malarial drug mefloquine, and she fears some of the Canadian soldiers who are about to deploy to Africa could meet the same fate.
“It makes me sick. They’ve got to stop them from taking this drug,” Ms. Reyes-Santiesteban, of Welland, Ont., told The Globe and Mail. “Everyone in the government should take this pill once a week for a month and let them see what happens.”
Her son, Corporal Scott Smith, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Christmas Day of 1994 in Rwanda, where he had been sent after taking part in the 1992 Somalia peacekeeping mission. Military doctors prescribed mefloquine for him on both deployments.
The army says he was “killed in action” even though his death, at the age of 23, was clearly suicide.
But, more than two decades later, as the government determines where its next peacekeeping mission in Africa will be, senior medical officials in the Canadian Forces say there is not enough scientific evidence to remove mefloquine as an option for troops who go to countries where malaria is a threat. They remain dubious of claims it can cause permanent damage, despite a Health Canada warning and veterans who say the medication ruined their lives.
Military brass said the same after allowing more than 1,000 Canadian Forces members in Somalia to be part of a poorly monitored clinical trial. Two of the soldiers on that mission were charged in the beating death of a Somali teen, and many others complained of alarming dreams, hallucinations and depression.
Even after doctors on the front lines implicated mefloquine in the troops’ violent behaviour, officers in Canada reassured the commission of inquiry into the Somalia affair that the drug could not cause the psychotic side effects being reported.
The current Liberal government has rejected calls from an all-party committee of the House of Commons and Somalia veterans for more research on mefloquine. And a previous Liberal government shut down the Somalia commission just before the issue of mefloquine was to be addressed.
As a result of recent media coverage, the chief of defence staff asked the military’s surgeon-general to take another look at the scientific literature about the drug. It is now prescribed to just a small fraction of Canadian troops.
The use of mefloquine in Somalia was unorthodox and possibly illegal. The drug had not been approved in Canada in 1992, but National Defence obtained it from Health Canada as part of a clinical trial in which military personnel were supposed to receive the informed consent of the users and to monitor the efficacy and the adverse reactions. They did neither.