I Would Not Take Malaria Drug Lariam, Says Ex-Army Head

I Would Not Take Malaria Drug Lariam, Says Ex-Army Head

A former head of the Army has admitted he would not take a controversial anti-malarial drug as he apologised to troops who took it while under his command.

Lariam has been associated in a minority of users with depression, hallucinations and panic attacks.

And while it is not the main anti-malarial drug used by the armed forces, at least 17,368 personnel were prescribed it at least once between the start of April 2007 and the end of March 2015.

Lord Dannatt, who was chief of the general staff between 2006 and 2009, told BBC Two's Victoria Derbyshire programme he would not take the drug because of his son's experience with it.

Lord Dannatt said Bertie had suffered mental health problems after taking two doses of Lariam before visiting Africa as a civilian in the late 1990s.

His son was not in the armed forces at the time but had been prescribed the product by his father's Army doctor.

Lord Dannatt said his son became "extremely depressed" and if he had been left untreated "who knows where it would have gone".

He told the BBC the side-effects of the drug could be "pretty catastrophic".

"Because Bertie had that effect, whenever I've needed anti-malarial drugs, I've said, 'I'll take anything, but I'm not taking Lariam'," he said.

Lord Dannatt said he was "quite content to say sorry" to those troops who had taken Lariam while he was head of the Army.

He suggested evaluating the merits of the drug was put on the "backburner" because between 2003 and 2014 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was focused on conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan which are not malarial areas.

Lord Dannatt also suggested the MoD was afraid of opening the "floodgates" to "very expensive" compensation claims if it admitted the drug had harmed troops.

An MoD spokeswoman 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."

The drug's manufacturers, Roche, told the BBC it "will continue to work with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that they have all the relevant information to ensure Lariam is prescribed appropriately".

Earlier this year the Commons Defence Committee called for Lariam to be designated a "drug of last resort", only to be issued when there was no alternative available.

Roche said it the findings of the report that Lariam should only be prescribed following an individual risk assessment, to those unable to tolerate other treatments and only after the patient is made aware of alternatives.

It said: "The most recent safety assessment conducted by EU authorities in March 2016 reinforced previous guidance that the benefits of Lariam outweigh the potential risks of the treatment."


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