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Welcome back to Five Minutes, the podcast series where we speak to the most interesting people in the world of malaria.

As part of our investigative series into Mefloquine and Tafenoquine, I’m thrilled to be joined by John Dowe from the International Mefloquine Veterans’ Alliance.

The Alliance is a network of veterans, families and friends affected by the health impacts of Mefloquine and Tafenoquine. Their aim is to support those who are dealing with the complex health implications of the drug’s toxicity.

If you have the opportunity, I’d highly recommend visiting their website, imvalliance.org and heading to the ‘Our Stories’ page. There you’ll be able to learn more about the people affected by Mefloquine toxicity.

And remember that you can access all of these interviews online by heading to fightmalaria.uk/Tafenoquine2018.

This is Five Minutes with John Dowe.

Thanks for joining me, could you tell me a little bit more about what your organisation does?

Yes, I’m very pleased to be with you today. The International Mefloquine Veterans Alliance was created because of a need to get various Commonwealth and other countries who had symptomatic exposure to the drug while in service, to compare and contrast together their policy that the defence and health departments had in regards to the drug. Because they were so concerned about the acute and possible long-term symptoms they were and have been experiencing today.

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When I look at your website, I see three key things. I see awareness of the risks, what Tafenoquine is, I see advocacy, trying to lobby and I also see outreach. Could you tell me more about your outreach work?

In light of the lack of acknowledgement and action to enrol former symptomatic users of those drugs in the military, many individuals are still continuing to suffer in confusion and silence as to what their symptoms may in fact be. We know these 8-aminoquinoline compound drugs, that are neurotoxic, many of the symptoms mimic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other issues such as psychosis, depression, suicidal ideation and many of these people just want clarity. With the lack of acknowledgement or outreach, many of these, especially here in Canada, veterans and their families are continuing to suffer and worry.

Is this possible, therefore, to misdiagnose quinoline poisoning as PTSD?

They are in fact very much still possibly suffering co-morbid commingled symptoms with PTSD and Mefloquine toxicity, or maybe Mefloquine toxicity in and of itself.

The reason why Mefloquine was given in the first place was because the previous malaria treatment wasn’t working and so it was a clinical trial of this new drug. The Australian army has said that was all unethical, this was above-board and the soldiers were made aware of the symptoms, do you agree with that?

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I do not. Many parts of the clinical trials that were done on soldiers with the Australian experience parallel the Canadian experience in Somalia from 1992 to 1993. Then Mefloquine was unlicensed in Canada and there was no proper true informed consent as to what the soldiers were facing to be this trial of this anti-malaria drug. So they were unwitting, they were captive audiences as it were. In some cases, we’ve heard in the Australian Army they were outright duped into becoming involved in these trials.

Talking more generally about the future, what needs to be done?

I think there has to be a greater collaboration and cooperation with the eyes and ears that are on the ground. On their own, these advocates that are reaching out and doing their own outreach, as it were, in lack of the government and the drug companies to really see how many people are affected within their community.

John Dowe, thank you so much.

I really appreciate your time today, I really appreciate your willingness to listen to us to give us a voice as well. It’s such a wonderful thing. Thank you.

Please Note: Due to time restrictions on this podcast, some parts of the interview have been omitted. You can read a full transcript of the entire interview by clicking here.

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