UN Peacekeepers Patrol Port-au-Prince Slum
Despite a growing body of evidence to the contrary, the United Nations is still getting blamed for bringing cholera to Haiti.
Three people have been killed, dozens injured, in rioting sparked by these accusations. And tensions remain high between many Haitians and UN peacekeeping troops, making the job of assisting with this island nation’s many humanitarian needs all the more difficult.
Meanwhile, the disease has now taken grip of Haiti, spreading rapidly and having so far killed perhaps 2,000 people. It is expected to sicken hundreds of thousands more before it burns itself out in perhaps a year or so. Many believe UN troops from Nepal, carrying the infection, brought the bacterial scourge to this already devastated nation.
“It’s tragic because it’s almost certainly incorrect,” said Rita Colwell, a world-renowned cholera expert and former director of the National Science Foundation.
Hey, United Nations! You might want to give these scientists a call.
I noticed this report earlier, by María Elena Hurtado for SciDev.net, in which she quotes two highly respected scientists, Dr. David Sack of Johns Hopkins University and Dr. Rita Colwell at the University of Maryland, saying Haiti’s cholera epidemic is probably not due to bacteria-infested UN peacekeepers.
Sack and Colwell say Haiti’s cholera outbreak is likely due to current weather conditions and climate change.
The UN has been attacked (literally) because Haitians believe UN Nepalese peacekeepers were infected and, through improper sanitation, caused the contamination of local water supplies. Scientists with the CDC have identified the cholera bacteria in the outbreak as being a South Asian strain. As a result, riots have broken out, people have been killed and the UN is on the defensive.
But Sack and Colwell believe the UN’s Nepalese team probably had nothing do with Haiti’s cholera.
David Sack is one of the world’s leading experts on cholera. Rita Colwell, former director of National Science Foundation, is an expert on the interplay between waterborne infectious diseases and the environment. What they think about this matters a great deal and may help quell some of the Haitian anger directed at the UN.
This is based on SciDev’s news report by Hurtado, not a published paper. I’ll see if I can find out more from Sack and Colwell on this.