UN peacekeepers likely caused Haiti cholera - U.S.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 30 Jun 2011 16:38 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Haiti struck by earthquake, cholera epidemic in 2010

* Nepalese peacekeepers operated in central Haiti

* Earlier U.N. report avoided blaming peacekeepers

By Matthew Bigg

ATLANTA, June 30 (Reuters) - Evidence strongly suggests U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal were the source of a cholera epidemic in Haiti that has killed more than 5,500 people, said a new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The epidemic was one of the most explosive and deadly in recent history, the report said, hitting a country reeling from a January 2010 earthquake that claimed the lives of more than 300,000 and shattered the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Cases of cholera first emerged in central Haiti&${esc.hash}39;s Artibonite River region in October and many Haitians said the disease came from the peacekeepers from Nepal, where cholera is endemic.

That belief sparked anti-U.N. riots last year in the poor Caribbean nation and it posed a serious political problem for U.N. authorities who already had a peacekeeping force in Haiti and deployed a massive aid effort after the earthquake.

"Our findings strongly suggest that contamination of the Artibonite and one of its tributaries downstream from a military camp triggered the epidemic," said the report by the Emerging Infectious Diseases unit at CDC, which is based in Atlanta.

"There was an exact correlation in time and places between the arrival of a Nepalese battalion from an area experiencing a cholera outbreak and the appearance of the first cases in Meille a few days after," the report released on Tuesday said.

"The remoteness of Meille in central Haiti and the absence of report of other incomers (newcomers) make it unlikely that a cholera strain might have been brought there another way," said the report, titled Understanding the Cholera Epidemic, Haiti.

It added that DNA evidence suggests the disease was introduced from a distant source by a single event.

In a separate commentary also published by CDC, scientists Scott Dowell and Christopher Braden said the report provided "circumstantial evidence that fecal contamination of a local stream draining into the Artibonite River initiated the epidemic."

An earlier U.N. report pointed to fecal contamination by a riverside U.N. peacekeepers&${esc.hash}39; camp as a likely cause.

But the four-member U.N.-appointed panel, named by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in January, avoided apportioning any direct blame or responsibility to U.N. peacekeepers, citing "a confluence of circumstances" behind the epidemic. [ID:nN0497246] (Editing by Tom Brown and Xavier Briand)