Jack Melling, a prominent SCI member and Trustee, has worked as a consultant for the US Department of Veterans' Affairs Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses and the US Government Accountability Office from 2002.
This US Committee has produced two reports, one in 2004, and the most recent one in November 2008. In particular, these have focused strongly on the cause(s) or Gulf War Illness. The illness is a complexity of multiple concurrent symptoms that can not be explained by well-established diagnoses.
On 24 March 2009, a symposium organised by SCI, in collaboration with the UK's Royal College of Pathologists and the British Society for Immunology was held at the House of Lords in London. The aim of the meeting was to provide information on the findings of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illness to Gulf War Veterans themselves, to the press and the media in general, and to the various parliamentarians who have been focusing on this issue for many years. Jack Melling attended the symposium on behalf of SCI, given the Society's interest in scientific affairs, and particularly aspects of science that pertain to public policy and public interest.
The RAC's report identifies 'a strong causal link' between Gulf War Illness and two neurotoxic exposures to which virtually all British veterans of the conflict were subjected, namely organophosphates (OPs) used as insecticides and pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills that were given to protect against nerve agents but without ever having been tested on human beings. The RAC's findings bring to an end 18 years of debate on the causes of Gulf War Illnesses.
The Committee observed:
'Veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War had the distinction of serving their country in a military operation that was a tremendous success achieved in short order. But many had the misfortune of developing lasting health consequences that were poorly understood and, for too long, denied or trivialised. The extensive body of scientific research now available consistently indicates that Gulf War illness is real, that it is the result of neurotoxic exposures during Gulf War deployment, and that few veterans have recovered or substantially improved with time. Addressing the serious and persistent health problems affecting Gulf War veterans remains the obligation of all who are indebted to the military men and women who risked their lives in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia 18 years ago. This obligation is made more urgent by the length of time Gulf War veterans have waited for answers and assistance.'
In the UK some 7,000 veterans have registered Gulf War-related health problems. Illness profiles typically include some combination of chronic headaches, cognitive difficulties, widespread pain, unexplained fatigue, chronic diarrhoea, skin rashes, respiratory problems and other abnormalities. This symptom complex, now commonly referred to as Gulf War Illness is not explained by routine medical evaluations or by psychiatric diagnoses and has persisted for many veterans for 18 years. While specific symptoms can vary between individuals, a remarkably consistent profile has emerged from hundreds of reports and studies of different Gulf War veteran populations from different regions of the US, and from allied countries.
Here since the conflict the Ministry of Defence has spent an estimated £8.5 million (US$12m) - on researching the scientific background to Gulf War veterans’ Illnesses, compared with US spending on research totalling $380 million.
The symposium held on 24 March 2009 at the House of Lords successfully presented the quite substantial information contained in the 2008 report. Key researchers who have participated in the project were present, such as Robert Haley, the main author of the report, Roberta White, coordinator of the research committee, and Lea Steele, Chair of Research Advisory Committee. These specialists discussed their findings with the symposium attendees, and answered questions.
SCI hopes this will revive an interest in the Gulf War Illness, and generally stimulate people in the UK to pay more attention to this problem.
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For more information please contact Alan Frame, T: +44 (0)207 065 2695
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