Wayne Karakyriacos took part in a drug trial when he was a soldier.(ABC News: Travis Mead)
Calls for Australian Defence Force chloroquine COVID-19 drug trial to be halted
- The ADF has begun trials on chloroquine as a preventative for COVID-19
- More than 40 Defence personnel are taking part in the trial
- Opponents have called for the trial to be scrapped, with questions over whether they were volunteers
An East Timor veteran suffering long term health issues after taking part in a controversial drug trial is horrified that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is once again trialling on its personnel, this time for COVID-19.
Wayne Karakyriacos said he feels betrayed by Defence for pushing ahead with a new clinical trial when he and other veterans are still struggling mentally and physically from past trials.
"Twenty years I've been suffering with an acquired brain injury," he told 7.30.
"Still to this day, I haven't been contacted by Defence or anyone from the department to follow up to see how I was travelling."
The ADF has recently started a voluntary clinical trial to test an antimalarial drug called Chloroquine as a potential preventative measure against COVID-19.
So far, 42 personnel have enrolled and started the 14-week trial.
In a statement, the Surgeon General of the ADF, Rear Admiral Sarah Sharkey, said Defence is seeking up to 700 civilian and ADF frontline healthcare workers to volunteer.
"This trial is not an anti-malarial trial," she told 7.30.
"This is testing a well-known drug as a potential preventative measure against COVID-19 to protect frontline health staff."
'It's not volunteer, it's voluntold'
Wayne Karakyriacos does not want Defence to take part in another drug trial.(ABC News: Travis Mead)
Mr Karakyriacos said he was used as a "guinea pig" in a drug trial in the early 2000s during his deployment in East Timor.
"I felt nauseous [hearing about the trial] because, you know, I thought here we go," he said.
"It's history repeating itself."
Back then, the Army had faced a major malaria outbreak.
The solution was to trial two medications called tafenoquine and mefloquine, by giving the drugs to thousands of soldiers.
The trial was voluntary but Mr Karakyriacos said taking the drugs was never a choice.
"If we didn't take the drugs we wouldn't be deployed," he said.
"We were 'voluntold'. You follow orders when you're in Defence."
'The trial should be stopped'
Liberal MP Phillip Thompson, a former soldier, is speaking out against the trial.(ABC News: Travis Mead)
Defence insists participation in the current trial is entirely voluntary.
"There is no pressure from Defence, command or anyone else to volunteer for this clinical trial," Rear Admiral Sharkey said.
"Importantly, volunteers can remove themselves from the trial at any time for any reason with no consequences."
But Federal Liberal MP Phillip Thompson said it is not possible for personnel to freely give consent because of the hierarchical command structure of Defence.
The former soldier, who is breaking political ranks to speak out against the trial, said he has raised the issue "all the way up the chain".
"The trial, I believe, should be stopped," Mr Thompson told 7.30.
"If they want Defence to do a trial, then the Chief of Defence Force, the Chief of Army, the Brigade Commanders and all the generals, they can take the drug trial.
"They can stand up and do it instead of pushing it down to where an 18-year-old, a 20-year-old will be 'voluntold' and feel pressured to take these antimalarials."
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'Problematic track record'
Jane Quinn does not think trialling chloroquine is worth the risk.(ABC News: Mollie Gorman)
Associate Professor Jane Quinn, a pharmacology researcher at Charles Sturt University's School of Veterinary Sciences, has worked closely with veterans studying the health effects of antimalarials like mefloquine.
The neuroscientist lost her husband to suicide in 2006 after he was exposed to antimalarials in the British Army.
When it comes to trialling Chloroquine, she doesn't think the risk is worth the reward for ADF personnel.
"We're aware that there has been a problematic track record of use of this particular class of drugs by the ADF for clinical trials," she told 7.30.
"I think we have to look really carefully at whether military personnel are an appropriate group to be involved in clinical trials at all."
Associate Professor Quinn said she didn't think there was currently enough international evidence of efficacy to justify the ADF trial.
"Chloroquine is a drug that's been used for a very long time in the prevention and treatment for malaria and over time it's become increasingly out of favour particularly for having quite a significant side-effect profile," she said.
"That's what makes it a little bit surprising that Chloroquine, particularly, is being suggested for use in this ADF trial."
'Great merit in doing these tests'
Chloroquine is being tested as preventative for COVID-19.(Supplied: WHO)
The drug being tested by the ADF, Chloroquine, and a similar drug, hydroxychloroquine, have been touted as possible coronavirus cures by scientists, politicians and celebrities, including billionaire Elon Musk and US President Donald Trump.
Both drugs are currently being tested by researchers globally as part of the World Health Organisation's international clinical trial.
Defence said it is testing Chloroquine as a preventative measure, not as a treatment or vaccine.
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"It's important to note that these drugs have not been established to be effective in preventing or treating COVID-19," said Professor Marc Pellegrini, the co-lead of that study.
"We don't have a convincing amount of positive or a convincing amount of negative data and therefore that's what all clinical trials are aimed at doing.
"It's critical to examine, I suppose, the efficacy of these drugs in the spectrum of different settings — if it works somewhere in the world it might not work in Australia, so we need to test it in Australia."
Rear Admiral Sharkey said trial enrolment is currently on hold due to the Government's successful COVID-19 intervention and subsequent lack of community transmission.
"If community transmission increases, enrolment will recommence," she said.
But the 42 ADF personnel who have already started the trial will continue.
"Participants will not be directly exposed to COVID-19, but if they are exposed, contact tracing and the COVID-19 app will be used to track their exposure," Rear Admiral Sharkey said.
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