Sunday 20 January 2019

Army personnel to use Lariam in Ebola mission

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The Defence Forces will persist with the use of Lariam for forthcoming overseas missions, despite facing a raft of personal injury cases linked to the use of the controversial anti-malaria drug.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney indicated Lariam would be the first anti-malaria drug to be considered for use by army personnel due to begin a mission shortly in Sierra Leone in support of the international effort to tackle the Ebola crisis.

This is despite the fact their UK counterparts in the same mission are likely to be prescribed a different anti-malaria drug, Malarone.

Mr Coveney said the anti-malarial drug of choice for the Defence Forces in Sierra Leone and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa "continues to be Lariam", in response to a query on the issue from Fianna Fáil TD Sean O Fearghail.

The minister defended the use of the drug, the side effects of which can include insomnia, anxiety, depression and self-harm, according to manufacturers Roche.

The State is thought to be facing around 30 legal cases from current and former members of the Defence Forces who were prescribed the drug during overseas tours.

However, Mr Coveney said his predecessors as Defence Minister had thoroughly investigated various allegations made about Lariam.

He said medical experts had backed the prescribing practices followed by the Defence Forces.

Ireland currently has two Defence Forces personnel deployed in Sierra Leone.

A further five medical personnel are receiving mission specific pre-deployment training in the UK and are due to travel to Sierra Leone shortly for a three-month period.

Although Mr Coveney insisted Lariam would be the drug initially considered for these personnel, he did not rule out other alternatives being used.

He said the choice of drug was "dependent on a number of factors, including the type of malaria in the destination, resistance to particular drugs, the profile of the traveller, the duration of travel and adherence issues".

The ultimate decision in each case would rest with the Defence Forces medical officers.

Mr Coveney acknowledged British counterparts in the mission were likely to be prescribed Malarone, but said it would be inappropriate to comment on their policy.

Lariam was first prescribed to Irish soldiers for the mission in Eritrea in 2001.

A report commissioned by the Department of Defence on the anti-malarial drug has remained unpublished since it was delivered in 2013.

The department has claimed "legal professional privilege" over the document and has refused to release it under the Freedom of Information Act.

Irish Independent

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