Gulf War Vets Home Page

Facing up to Gulf War's silent killer

Thu 20 Apr 2006

What are your thoughts on Gulf War Syndrome? Does it exist? Tell us.

SOME 250,000 of the returning allied forces from the first Gulf War in 1991 (15 per cent) went down with illness that they insist was related to their service in that war. Of these, 10,000 are already dead.

Successive governments over the years have refused to recognise the existence of a single condition called Gulf War Syndrome and so the impasse continues. Veterans remain adamant that their illness is a direct result from their service in the Gulf, while officialdom maintains that the sheer breadth and range of symptoms and illness reported by the veterans rules out the possibility of any one single syndrome being responsible.

If one discounts the myriad minor suggestions - which may be perfectly valid on an individual or small group basis - we are left with three major propositions for the cause of veterans' illness.

Firstly, Saddam's forces used chemical and biological weapons against the allied troops during the first Gulf War. Secondly, the allied forces were repeatedly exposed to radiation and toxic effects from depleted uranium used in heavy munitions. Thirdly, the protective vaccines given to the troops prior to their leaving for the Gulf caused their illness.

Although we now know that biological and chemical weapons were used against the allied forces, the scale was limited and in no way could account for such large numbers falling ill. Exposure to depleted uranium can also be ruled out on numerical grounds.

The first hurdle to overcome in considering the third suggestion - that the vaccines were to blame for Gulf War Syndrome - is a natural scepticism. We think of vaccines as good things, substances that afford protection rather than threat, but, on purely numerical grounds (all British and American troops were vaccinated) they demand further investigation.

Carrying out such an investigation however, is easier said than done. The MoD remains resolutely unforthcoming about what vaccines the troops were given and over what period of time and 70 per cent of the relevant medical records have been "lost".

Such a situation breeds suspicion and prompts a re-examination of the official government position that there are too many varied symptoms and conditions to be ascribed to one syndrome. This thinking could well be flawed.

Any agent that damaged the human immune system would automatically render its victims susceptible to a wide range of diseases and conditions and give rise to exactly what is seen among Gulf War veterans.

A direct analogy can be made with Aids. The HIV virus destroys its victim's immune system and renders him or her susceptible to and totally defenceless against the entire microbial world. Aids sufferers succumb to a wide range of "Aids-related' diseases.

Could Gulf War Syndrome be the result of damage to the immune system of the troops? If so, the vaccines must be a prime suspect. We know that the UK's chemical and biological weapons research establishment at Porton Down was involved in Gulf War vaccine formulation and that experimental vaccines against the threat of biological weapons were incorporated into the schedule

The alternative to making technical inquiries is to ask one very simple but still scientifically valid question. Was there any group of people - statistically significant in number - who went to the first Gulf War without first receiving the vaccines? In scientific terms, a control group. The answer is yes.

The French forces who served in the Gulf were not vaccinated. Their commander in chief did not think the vaccines were safe. The question is did 15 per cent of the French troops come down with Gulf War Syndrome on their return like the other allied forces? The answer is, no, they did not.

This makes a strong case for Gulf War vaccines being the cause of Gulf War Syndrome but not in the Government's view. It takes the position that if Gulf War Syndrome does not actually exist in the United Kingdom, why should it come as a surprise to anyone that it doesn't exist in France either?

Just over a year ago an independent inquiry was held into the problem. The findings of that inquiry, headed by Lord Lloyd of Berwick, were that there is a condition that can and should be referred to as Gulf War Syndrome and that its victims should be compensated by the Government.

But the Government still maintains that there is no such thing as Gulf War Syndrome and is determined to adhere to this view until anyone can demonstrate the scientific detail. Shame on them. Science cannot demonstrate the exact link between smoking and lung cancer but only a fool would maintain that there wasn't one.

Ken McClure's new novel, Past Lives, is published by Allison & Busby, priced 18.99. The Gulf Conspiracy is a fictional thriller which centres on the theory that vaccinations were responsible for Gulf War Syndrome.