‘Nothing to hide’ in decision not to publish Lariam report
Shatter confirms 24 current and former soldiers suing State over anti-malarial drug
A mosquito prepares to bite. If a mosquito is carrying a parasite called plasmodium, it can then travel to the person’s liver, where it multiplies. One of the treatment options is the drug mefloquine, sold under the brand names Lariam, Mephaquin or Mefliam.
Minister for Defence Alan Shatter has insisted he has “nothing to hide” after a decision not to publish a report on the use of the controversial anti-malarial drug, Lariam.
Mr Shatter confirmed 24 current and former members of the Defence Forces are taking cases against the State, alleging personal injury as a result of their consumption of mefloquine (Lariam). High Court proceedings have been served in nine of them.
Fianna Fáil defence spokesman Seán Ó Fearghaíl said he was “astonished” by the Department of Defence’s attitude not to publish the report, given that it was prepared in the context of current and potential litigation arising from use of the drug.
He said: “Given that in the event of legal action the report would have to be made available, why doesn’t the Minister publish it now and let us see what it contains so as to clear up any concerns?”
The Kildare South TD also said: “Doesn’t the fact it is not being published give the impression there is something to hide on the part of the Department of Defence?”
Insisting he had nothing to hide, Mr Shatter said he also assumed each of his predecessors as minister for defence for 14 years in the lifetime of the previous government had nothing to hide.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl raised the issue following a story in The Irish Times that the report was “legally privileged” and would not be published. The newspaper also reported the drug would continue to be administered to Defence Forces personnel working overseas in malarial zones, despite safety information from manufacturer Roche that Lariam could cause serious neuropsychiatric disorders.
The newspaper also reported that in 2009 soldiers were told the Defence Forces would not be liable if they failed to take Lariam and contracted malaria .
Mr Shatter said “the instructions from 2009 published by the Defence Forces were published when the Deputy’s colleague Willie O’Dea was minister for defence. I have nothing to hide.”
Mr Shatter said the choice of anti-malarial drug “must always remain a medical decision to be made by the medical officers in the Defence Forces on the basis of best medical practice, having regard to the specific circumstances of the mission and the individual member”.
He explained that a working group was established by the department in January 2011 to examine the use of Lariam and other anti-malarial drugs used by the Defence Forces. It included members of the Defence Forces’ medical corps, personnel policy branch and human resources and litigation branch. The State Claims Agency and Chief State Solicitor’s office were also represented.
Mr Shatter received the report in June and said that “in the context of current and potential litigation...[it] is therefore legally privileged”.
He said the group investigated all the allegations surrounding the use of Lariam and obtained advice from leading experts who concurred with Defence Force policy on prescribing Lariam.
The Minister stressed how dangerous malaria was and that it could cause serious injury and death. About one million people die annually in sub-Saharan Africa from the disease and it is “a serious threat to any military force operating in a malarious area”.
The Defence Forces’ anti-malarial policy has worked, he stressed, adding that not a single Irish soldier had died in the decade of Defence Forces deployment to that region.