This is the first in what will be a series of personal accounts from veterans and family members involved in the Australian Army Malaria Institute’s (AMI) clinical trials of mefloquine and tafenoquine during the period 1999 to 2002.
I served as a private soldier in the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (4 RAR) from 2000 to 2002. I deployed with 4 RAR on Operation TANAGER to East Timor in 2001 and participated in the AMI mefloquine trial. I am now a civilian.
I believe that my consent to participate in this trial my was unreasonably and unfairly obtained.
At the conclusion of the company’s pre-deployment field training exercise in Australia, my part of the unit halted for a ration-pack meal before transport arrived for the trip back to the admin area. Prior to the transport arriving we sat on our backpacks, it was last-light and some personnel were starting to use torches in the fading light.
During the wait for transport, and along with the rest of my group I was handed a “drug trial consent form(s)” and told to sign it before the transport arrived – or words to that effect. I can’t remember who told us to sign the forms but our transport arrived soon after.
However I clearly recall because of the poor light, I was unable to read the detail of the form(s) and I clearly remember to this day thinking “this is wrong I’m not sure about this – I’m about to give consent for a drug trial for something I do not fully understand the possible consequences of – who does that?”
We were getting the hurry up for the trucks which had now arrived. However I trusted my superiors that it was ok to consent to participate in the trial so I signed the unread consent form(s) and handed them back to a soldier who I didn’t recognise.
I remember thinking how disorganised the process was. The forms were collected in the dark and there were no real checks that they were all handed in, but everyone just wanted to get on the transport and get home.
I felt then and still do now that there was something fundamentally wrong with the way we gave our consent as it was rushed, uninformed and we were literally “in the dark” about the risks. In hindsight I regret not speaking up at the time.
If I knew then what I know now, I would not have given my consent to participate in the mefloquine drug trial.