Participant in Study 033 tells his story.
Tafenoquine is the next generation anti-malarial, and even more dangerous than the drug that came before it, mefloquine. From 1999-2002 the ADF conducted a number of illegal and unethical drug trials on personnel during peace-keeping missions in Bougainville and Timor Leste. One of these was Study 033.
This is the story of one of those soldiers. It is the testimony of Mr Colin Brock to the 2018 Australian Senate Inquiry into Quinoline Antimalarials in the ADF.
I enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in August 1990. After recruit training I was sent to the school of infantry and was allocated to the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, and other placings, until my discharge in August 2010. I discharged, after 20 years, as a warrant officer class II. At the beginning of the year 2000, 1 RAR was warned out for deployment to East Timor. I was a section commander in Mortar Platoon, Support Company. My section consisted of nine men, including me.
I am not sure of the specific date—I think it was sometime in September 2000—a battalion parade was held on the main parade ground of 1 RAR. We were formed up in companies and the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Calagari, briefed the battalion on a new malaria drug or drugs that we all were to take to prevent malaria. We were told that it was a trial to benefit the Defence Force. I now know the drugs to be mefloquine and tafenoquine. Lieutenant Colonel John Calagari then informed the battalion, ‘This drug is voluntary, but if you do not consent to take this drug, you will not deploy to East Timor.’
I can categorically state, 100 per cent, that he did say this. There was numerous talk about it after the parade. No-one in the battalion was going to say, ‘No, we won’t take it,’ as everyone wanted to deploy. If you knew about the Army culture, that is what you would want to do. If we knew of the consequences of these drugs, I and a lot of others would have told them to find someone else.Some time after the parade, 100 persons were selected at random and put in a group called ‘the 100 club’. My nine-man section was part of this group. The persons I remember were Lieutenant Colonel Brennan and a pair of identical twins, who were lieutenants, but I can’t remember their names. Before the loading phase of the drug commenced we conducted medical tests, numerous blood tests, ECGs, breathing tests, X-rays on the backs of our eyes, which consisted of an IV drip in our arms, which turned our skin yellow and our eyes black.
When we came back from seven months in East Timor, the exact same tests we had completed earlier were conducted on the same 100 to see if there were any changes. These final tests were the last time I ever saw anyone from the Army Malaria Institute. We were told there would be follow-up tests in six months and in 12 months, but these never eventuated. I suppose they got their data from us guinea pigs.
While in East Timor the medics and some of the Malaria Institute conducted blood tests on us. We were not told what drug we were on. In 2005—I think I was back in Townsville—I received a letter from the institute saying that I was on mefloquine and that if I had problems with my eyes I should see a specialist. Apparently, one of the side-effects was carbon deposits on the back of your eyes. I thought this very strange, as we had taken this drug some five years before. A couple of weeks later I received another letter saying, ‘We are sorry. Actually, you were on tafenoquine.’ I was not having much faith in the Army Malaria Institute. What this did enforce for me, though, was that they knew where I was posted because I was still in the Army, so, if there were any side effects of this drug, surely they would get me and others in for further testing.
In my later years in Defence, I knew there was something not right with me. I thought it might have been PTSD, as I’d completed numerous deployments to some of the worst countries on Earth, but it was something else. My hearing was failing. There was ringing in my ears. I was having dizzy spells; vertigo issues, which I still have today; bouts of depression and anxiety; and anger issues. But, like a lot of people in Defence, you just put up with it. I loved being deployed, and nothing really fazed me.
I discharged in 2010 and commenced working in the civilian industry. After a couple of different jobs, I started working in the fire protection industry, which I did until I had a mental breakdown in early 2016. I knew this was coming, as I had feelings of anger, hatred et cetera towards colleagues. Some days I had to leave, or I would have actually killed someone, with no regret at all. The anxiety and anger were uncontrollable. This was not the life I wanted to live. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 2016. While admitted, I left work for my safety and the safety of other people.
I’m not sure when or where, but I read something about the drug trial that I was involved in and some of the symptoms associated with these drugs. I could not believe how my symptoms matched. I researched myself, I looked through my medical files, but not much was there. I was also aware of a number of ex-soldiers who were suffering PTSD from Timor and my tour. This was strange, as on our tour not much actually happened. It was intense and harrowing at times, but not like other high-risk deployments. In the meantime, I submitted claims with DVA, which accepted PTSD, major depression, IBS et cetera. That’s when I came across a Facebook page started by a fellow veteran whose name is Stuart McCarthy, who was also suffering. This was a godsend for me.
I think it was in March 2016 that a forum was held at the Townsville RSL, which I attended with a number of other people who were severely affected by these drugs. A number of dignitaries attended, with key speakers and subject matter experts. Defence was represented by Air Vice Marshal Tracy Smart, Commander Joint Health. I have no words for Tracy Smart. All she did was deny any wrongdoing by Defence, saying the drug trials were conducting morally and ethically, and there was nothing wrong with us. She had no answers for us, just denial. One of my close friends, Chris Styles, had an open argument with her at the forum which was captured on visual and audio. Chris committed suicide less than two months later. Tracy Smart is a Defence toe-the-line person. She is fully aware of these drugs and does not care.
In May 2016, I was contacted by Brigadier Andrew Dunn as part of the IGADF inquiry into allegations of unethical and unlawful use of antimalarial drugs in Defence. This was a phone interview which lasted around 90 minutes. I answered truthfully all the questions asked of me. I have a clear recollection of these events, and one in particular. The main question I was asked was: what did Lieutenant Colonel John Caligari say on the parade ground as to the drug being voluntary? I answered: ‘John Caligari said, “The drug trial is voluntary, but if you do not consent to the trial you will not deploy to East Timor.”‘ As I said, I am 100 per cent correct that I heard this. I would not lie about this. I know the man’s reputation is at stake; I would not lie.
I received the findings for my part in this inquiry a while later. The report suggests that I basically lied to the inquiry—and so did four or five others that were with us—finding that John Caligari had never said those words. I was gobsmacked. He was an officer I respected, trusted and looked up to, as I had worked for him again in later years. He categorically denied it. There are hundreds of people from that 1RAR parade ground who will agree with me. We are not liars. What would I have to gain by saying this? Nothing. Also, if you look at submission No.80, I don’t know if you have that with you, what he’s said in there—I saw that the other day in the submissions—is what I’m saying.
Everyone affected by these drugs wants answers. My section in East Timor consisted of nine fit men. Six out of the nine are now experiencing all of these symptoms and are unable to work; that’s a 75 per cent ratio. Why were Defence used as guinea pigs? Why were we forced to take these drugs? What do we have to do to get help—more suicides? There is blood on the hands of the malaria institute, Defence and the leaders of these so-called trials. I personally have been to two funerals as a direct result of these horrendous drugs, and it will keep happening. Just three days ago a former member of 1RAR who was on these trials committed suicide. That was three days ago. It’s still happening. The fraud and corruption involved in these trials is huge. The lying and deceit is incomprehensible. People and organisations need to be held accountable for the damage they have done to hundreds if not thousands of officers and soldiers.
That’s all I’ve got, but yesterday I heard in the Brisbane senate two professors or scientists—one was from Melbourne University, I think—who basically said there is no evidence and there’s nothing wrong with these drugs. It’s been 18 years since we took these drugs. I was in the 100 club. My file here, which is an inch thick, shows that you have abnormalities after seven months. Get those two people, load them up with double dosages, take the drug for seven months, give it to their kids, give it to their families—see if they would do that. I guarantee they won’t. All of them—Tracy Smart—let them take it. See what they feel like.
Finally, I want to thank Jane Quinn, Brian McCarthy and, especially, Stuart McCarthy, for their tireless efforts in this.
Testimony of Mr Colin Brock to the 2018 Australian Senate Inquiry into Quinoline Antimalarials in the ADF
This testimony is significant for a number of reasons. First, it highlights the fact that the Study 033 report (published in 2010) is a fraudulent document. Adverse events like were commonplace but were fraudulently excluded from the published report. The report found “Tafenoquine appears to be safe and well tolerated as malaria prophylaxis.
Notably, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration quietly approved tafenoquine for malaria prophylaxis even as many of the Study 033 subjects were testifying to the Senate inquiry with personal accounts like these. The TGA’s approval was based largely on the fraudulent Study 033 report.
Second, it highlights serious breaches of the ethical standards for human research, namely that informed consent to participate must be voluntary, free from coercion.
Third, it highlights criminal negligence on the part of the Army Malaria Institute. Study subjects who raised safety concerns about tafenoquine were forced to continue on the drug, sustaining lasting or permanent brain damage as a result, while being denied access to safer, alternative registered drugs.