Study: U.N. Forces Likely Brought Cholera to Haiti

The report confirms long-held suspicions that Nepalese forces brought the illness to the nation last year.

Posted: 07/01/2011 02:41 PM EDT
Filed Under United Nations, Haiti

Haiti’s cholera outbreak was likely initially brought to the nation by United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

This news really should come as no surprise. A study released by the U.N. in May also concluded that the cholera strain found in Haiti is very similar to one seen in Nepal. But this CDC report is different since it was reviewed by a team of researchers (and not created by a four-member panel, like the U.N. report), it is considered the most compelling argument on the cholera origin yet.

 

And while it made some connections, the U.N. report refused to single out any one group of people for the outbreak, instead attributing it to a “confluence of circumstances,” that included the lack of sanitation in refugee camps.

 

Haitians have long blamed the peacekeepers for the epidemic that’s killed more than 5,500 and sickened 363,000 since it first broke in October. Prior to this time, Haiti hadn’t seen a cholera outbreak in more than a century.

 

This new CDC report attempts to provide more conclusive clarity out the outbreak’s source.

 

"Our findings strongly suggest that contamination of [Haiti’s] Artibonite [river] and one of its tributaries downstream from a military camp triggered the epidemic," said the report entitled “Understanding the Cholera Epidemic, Haiti” featured in July’s issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a CDC publication.

 

An area of Nepal experienced a cholera outbreak back in September. Researchers were able to find exact correlations between their outbreak and the initial appearances of the water-borne illness in Haiti’s Meille river where the U.N.’s base for the Nepalese peacekeepers is located. Since that particular river is pretty remote, it’s very unlikely that the strain entered the nation any other way, according to the report.

 

“There is little doubt that the organism was introduced to Haiti by a traveler from abroad, and this fact raises important public health considerations," wrote Scott Dowell, director of the CDC's Division of Global Disease Detection and Emergency Response, and Christopher Braden, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC.

 

Furthermore, it’s important to examine the origins and spread of outbreaks so workers can better treat and prevent the illness. Studies like these also cut down on the “distrust associated with the widespread suspicions of a cover-up of a deliberate importation of cholera,” the report said.

 

After months of decline, the recent start of the hurricane season in the nation has brought on cholera resurgence in Haiti with some aid workers seeing more than 300 new cases a day, charity Oxfam reported last month.

(Photo: AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

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