An ex-army chief has apologised to soldiers who were prescribed Lariam to combat malaria after admitting the ‘catastrophic’ effect the drug had on his own son.
General Lord Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff from 2006 to 2009, said his son Bertie became extremely depressed after taking the drug ahead of a visit to Africa.
He was not in the army, but was prescribed two doses of Lariam – also known as mefloquine – by his father’s family doctor.
But the side effects were so dramatic that when Lord Dannatt himself needed anti-malarial drugs, he refused it, telling doctors ‘I’ll take anything, but I’m not taking Lariam.’
The revelation came as Lord Dannatt appeared on BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme to discuss the controversial drug.
He said: “He (Bertie) became extremely depressed, not the person that he would normally be, normally a very bubbly personable individual.
“He got very withdrawn and we got very worried about him.
“If that had been untreated, who knows where it would have gone.”
Although Lariam is not the main anti-malarial used by the armed forces, figures from the Ministry of Defence show that it was handed out to more than 17,000 personnel at least once between April 2007 and March 2015.
Many who have since suffered mental health problems are now pursuing legal action against the MoD, claiming they were wrongly prescribed it and should have been warned of its side effects.
Lord Dannatt, who claimed a proper evaluation of the drug had been put on the ‘backburner’ while the army focused on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, said he would be ‘quite content to say sorry’ to troops who had taken it whilst under his command.
A spokeswoman for the MoD told the BBC: “The vast majority of deployed personnel already receive alternatives to Lariam and, where it is used, it is only prescribed after an individual risk assessment.
“But we have a duty to protect our personnel from malaria and, as the last defence committee report concluded, in some cases, Lariam will be the most effective way of doing that.
“It continues to be recommended as safe by the Public Health England and the World Health Organisation.”
EU authorities approved the drug for use earlier this year, according to the drug’s manufacturer, Roche, which said it would continue to work with the MoD to make sure it was prescribed appropriately.