Haiti: UN panel reports on source of cholera outbreak

The cholera outbreak that has so far killed 4,888 people in Haiti was caused by a strain “very similar but not identical” to current South Asian strains, a U.N. independent panel of experts said. The source of the outbreak was due to contamination of the Meye Tributary of the Artibonite River, used by tens of thousands of people for washing, bathing, and drinking.

Many people in Haiti blamed the epidemic on U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, who had been accused of poor sanitation at their base near Mirebalais, the town where the epidemic first began. In November 2010, this lead to violent protests against the UN peacekeeping forces. Others believed that the outbreak was linked to voodoo. More than 50 voodoo followers have been killed since the outbreak of cholera following accusations that they spread the disease with occult power. However, U.N. panel declined to point the finger at any single group for the outbreak, saying it was the result of a «confluence of circumstances».

“The introduction of this cholera strain as a result of environmental contamination with faeces could not have been the source of such an outbreak without simultaneous water and sanitation and health-care system deficiencies,” the report concludes.

The UN panel of experts provides several recommendations to the U.N. and the Haitian government including:

  • UN staff and other relief workers travelling from cholera-endemic areas should either receive a prophylactic dose of appropriate antibiotics before departure or be screened for cholera strains
  • UN peacekeeping missions operating in areas with cholera outbreaks should ensure that staff be immunized with oral vaccines, receive prophylactic antibiotics, or both,
  • the UN should install and supervise their own on-site sanitation systems that inactivate pathogens before disposal
  • the Haitian Government and the UN should prioritise investing in piped, treated drinking water supplies and better sanitation throughout the country; and until this can be put in place, they should promote household water treatment, hand washing with soap, and the safe disposal of faecal waste.

Read the full report of the UN Independent Panel of Experts on the Cholera Outbreak in Haiti.

According to estimates from the Health and WASH Clusters, US$ 39.38 million is still neededto respond to essential needs of the cholera response in the areas of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and health. This unfunded requirement is part of the general US$ 175 million cholera appeal which is so far 48 per cent funded, according to the latest UN Humanitarian Bulletin for Haiti.

Source: UN News Centre, 04 May 2011 ; AP / New York Times, 04 May 2011 ; Evelyn Leopold, Huffington Post, 05 May 2011 ;   Reliefweb, 07 May 2011 ; Rory Carroll, Guardian, 18 Nov 2010

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