I received an email yesterday from a veteran advocate who continues to fight the Canadian government’s position on the adverse effects of the anti-malaria drug mefloquine or Lariam as a preventative treatment for the military since the early 1990s. I find the government’s response insulting to our intelligence and lacking all human compassion. I quote in part its position: “The Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) take the health and well-being of CAF members very seriously. Malaria is a potentially life-threatening infectious disease to which our troops can beexposed in the performance of their duties during deployment or travel in theregions of the world where malaria is present. The use of medication to prevent malaria is a critical part of the protection we provide our troops. The current approach in the CAF to protect our personnel against malaria does include mefloquine as one of the medications that we recommend and use.

“Mefloquine is a Health Canada approved drug and continues to be an option for malaria prophylaxis as recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada and by most public health and travel medicine authorities around the world. Mefloquine has advantages over other drugs. It is highly effective at preventing malaria infection and the once per week dosing makes it easier for personnel to remember to take it compared to other drugs which must be taken every day. Once a week dosing improves compliance and thus provides better protection against malaria. It is acknowledged that, like any other medication, mefloquine has the potential to cause adverse effects, with the rare and most worrisome of these being serious neuro-psychiatric events. Despite mefloquine’s reputation, the large majority of individuals who take mefloquine do so with no significant side effects.” Update on Canadian Armed Forces and Prescription Drugs, Dec. 24, 2014, Rick Dykstra, Member of Parliament for St. Catharines

Here’s the rub: “It is acknowledged that, like any other medication, mefloquine has the potential to cause adverse effects, with the rare and most worrisome of these being serious neuro-psychiatric events. Despite mefloquine’s reputation, the large MAJORITY of individuals who take mefloquine do so with no significant side effects.”

This issue is not a high school debate where each point is seen as a reasonable hypothesis nor is it an acceptable justification. We are talking about the LIVES of human beings being so detrimentally affected they can no longer function, of human beings who suffer every day from the continuing adverse effects mefloqouine causes and whose symptoms, as we are learning, grow worse as they age. To ignore the agony of these FEW that we the people in the name of our government deny is not only irresponsible, it verges on inhumane criminal treatment. It is no different than a hit-and-run driver who leaves the scene of an accident. We, the government of the people, for the people and by the people, are responsible for ALL the people we represent, not just SOME of the people SOME of the time nor when it suits us.

Yes, malaria is a dreadful disease. Yes, more troops were lost in WWII to malaria than to actual combat fatalities. Yes, we have to protect ourselves against malaria when we travel to places where it prevails. Yes, it is good the Canadian military now give service members a choice in which anti-malarial they take after being informed of all the possibilities.

BUT, this does not justify our government’s ignoring those casualties of the mefloquine drug over the years since it was first issued as a mandatory prophylaxis for those serving in our military. These victims need recognition, and they need help NOW. Our government needs to return to the scene of the crime and take responsibility for the injury it has caused the FEW for an extended number of years.

Bonnie Toews, Canadian citizen and a voter


About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
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  1. The Simpsons says:

    Thanks Bonnie. I really appreciate your advocacy on behalf of all veterans. I’ve been diagnosed with an OSI seven years after my release. I worry that it may be the result of mefloquine use for my tour in Afghanistan. I was older at the time—42—and a Corporal in the Armoured Corps. My symptoms seemed to get worse as I got older, but maybe it’s just coincidence. Nevertheless, I think you are doing a great service, and I just wanted to thank you. God Bless you. Curtis Simpson.

    • Curtis, we can only hope that enough ripples will eventually form one giant wave that will sweep through the desks of Ottawa and force them to pay attention. Are you taking CoQ10? It’s natural. As we get older it becomes depleted in our bodies and we really need to replace it — helps all organs, not just brain and heart. I’m personally grateful for your comment, Curtis. The best to you.

  2. actually Bonnie, I think that the rate of adverse events is highly understated. From my own experience and from watching the story unfold over the years, it seems like the rate that I have seen for the more sever psychosis is one in 100. I would also say that the rate of mild to moderate symptoms of hallucinations, paranoia, and high anxiety are upwards to one in 10 to 20. But again, Dr. Remington Nevin’s latest research is probably the most scientifically accurate at this time. What we all know is that the rate of reporting adverse events is much lower than what actually happens in the real world. I can say from the backpackers we met along our 7 month journey in 1998, MOST young health backpackers switched as we did, to doxycycline, especially if we were travelling for extended periods while using mefloquine. Even with the mild to moderate adverse effects, it was rather uncomfortable and unsettling, to have your cognitive functions dulled and deranged while visiting foreign countries. Just imagine what it would be like if you are on the front lines and ORDERED to take these Lariam pills with no alternatives presented. YIKES. Now that was one big huge pharmaceutical mistake in my opinion. Many soldiers knew the drugs made them loopy….maybe kind of maybe like LSD would. But many soldiers did not know…that their symptoms were ONLY from the drug..and not from the difficult conditions they were subjected to. I am so glad that awareness in happening. Our soldiers should NEVER AGAIN be used as “guinea pigs” and drug safety needs more attention from this day forward. Especially in cases like this, where alternative options for malaria prophylaxis existed. The government just chose to hide and bury the truth about this error in judgement. Lariam could have been pulled over a decade ago, based on the facts even then. Lessons learned….never again….blindly .trust what Health Canada and the FDA says. I think many citizens have long ago caught onto this….it is the governments turn to own up to the truth.

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