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