Ministry of Defence faces legal claims over malaria drug

British soldiers in Afghanistan in 2009 Image copyright MOD/PA

A group of military personnel are seeking damages from the Ministry of Defence over an anti-malarial drug they say has caused mental health problems.

Law firm Irwin Mitchell says it has formally notified the MoD of several claims after being contacted by about 30 serving and former members of the armed forces about its use of Lariam.

Side effects of the drug can include anxiety, depression and nightmares.

The MoD has said it is only prescribed after an individual risk assessment.

Irwin Mitchell said its case comes after MPs on the Defence Select Committee were made aware of claims the drug may have been used "outside of manufacturers' guidelines".

It said it was representing male and female clients who had served with the Army and other branches of the armed forces.

Kevin Timms, from the law firm, said: "Through our work we have seen first-hand the devastating effects that Lariam has had on the lives of service personnel and their families.

"We are now investigating the legal case on their behalf and in some cases have already formally notified the MoD of the intention to bring legal action."

'No information'

Lariam is the brand name for mefloquine, a once-a-week anti-malarial tablet licensed for sale in 42 countries worldwide.

It is among a number of different anti-malarial drugs used by the Ministry of Defence, and as of September last year made up 1.2% of its military's anti-malarial stocks.

Lariam's manufacturer Roche advises patients and healthcare professionals to follow the advice it provides.

Image copyright Other
Image caption Ade Jerry (left) and Daniel Swain are among the former and serving personnel involved in the action

Among those represented by Irwin Mitchell is former Drum Major Sergeant Daniel Swain, 36, from Ely in Cambridgeshire.

He says he suffered from anger issues after taking Lariam in Iraq in 2006, and had an "out-of-body experience" when he took the drug four years later while training troops in Afghanistan.

Another former soldier, Ade Jerry, 33, from Berkshire, who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, says he felt low and developed symptoms of depression after taking Lariam in 2008 in Afghanistan.

Although he thought this was down to being away from friends and family, the symptoms persisted when he took the drug when he was deployed again in 2011.

Mr Timms said: "He has told us that he was given no information prior to taking Lariam and neither did he undergo any mental or physical health assessment.

"On both occasions in which he was prescribed Lariam, he was handed the drug while on parade and told that it was an anti-malaria tablet... but was given no information about the risks associated with the drugs."

In response to a written question from the Defence Select Committee, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said in September last year that the MoD complies with national guidelines on malaria prevention, issued by Public Health England.

PHE's most recent annual review was conducted that same month and it "continues to recommend mefolquine use as long as individual assessments are undertaken before prescribing", he said.

Mr Fallon added that all anti-malarial drugs have side effects, and there had to be a balance between providing protection against malaria and side effects.

A spokesperson for the MoD said: "No anti-malarial treatments are without associated side effects but it is crucial we protect our personnel from this potentially fatal disease upon deployment to affected areas.

"We need to be able to use the most appropriate drug in order to ensure resistance... Mefloquine is used throughout the world but is not prescribed widely in the UK military, and only after an individual risk assessment."

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