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Gulf War Illnesses

Volume 684: debated on Monday 24 July 2006

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Tom Watson) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

A key principle of the Government's approach to addressing the health concerns of veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict is that there should be appropriate research into veterans' illnesses and factors that may have a bearing on these.

As a key part of that research, the Ministry of Defence has sponsored an investigation by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Porton Down, into the possible health effects of the combination of vaccines and tablets given to troops at the time of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict to protect them against the threat of biological and chemical warfare. The main body of work involved monitoring multiple factors in marmosets for up to 18 months following the administration of vaccines and/or pyridostigmine bromide (the active ingredient in nerve agent pre-treatment tablets). Interim results were announced on 1 April 2003 (Official Report, col. 55WS).

Papers reporting final results from two elements of the main study have now been published in the online version of the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior and hard-copy publication will follow. A summary of the papers is available on the articles in press section of the journal's website The papers report that there were no long-term changes of biological significance in cognition, muscle function, general health, brain electrical activity and sleep that could be attributed to administration of vaccines and/or pyridostigmine bromide.

The publication of these findings in a peer-reviewed journal should be welcomed by Gulf veterans in addressing a key area of concern to them. It represents a further step towards meeting the department's commitment to investigate these issues. Further results on the immunological aspects of the study will be published in due course.