Latin America & Caribbean

Haiti cholera similar to South Asian strain, says UN

Patients with cholera are treated in a hospital in Haiti on 6 November, 2010
Image caption Before this epidemic, cholera had not been present in Haiti for nearly a 100 years, the UN report says

The cholera strain that has claimed more than 4,500 lives in Haiti closely resembles strains currently circulating in South Asia, a UN report has found.

The investigation followed accusations that UN peacekeepers from Nepal had introduced the disease into Haiti, prompting violent anti-UN riots.

The accusations had been denied by UN and Nepalese officials.

The UN said the report did "not present any conclusive scientific evidence" of a link to the peacekeepers.

The panel said a "confluence of circumstances" were involved in the outbreak.

The epidemic, which started 10 months after Haiti's devastating earthquake in January 2010, has sickened almost 300,000 people, the report says.

Antibiotics call

UN investigators say the epidemic was caused by bacteria introduced to Haiti as a result of "human activity", pointing specifically to the contamination of the Meye tributary system, near the Mirebalais camp housing Nepalese peacekeepers.

The UN had previously described reports that human faecal waste from the camp had caused the outbreak by leaking into river systems as "rumours", saying sanitary conditions for Nepalese peacekeepers were adequate.

The panel now finds that sanitary conditions at the base, "were not sufficient to prevent contamination" of the river system.

However, Michel Bonnardeaux, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping department, told Reuters news agency the report "does not present any conclusive scientific evidence linking the outbreak to the Minustah peacekeepers or the Mirebalais camp".

He added: "Anyone carrying the relevant strain of the disease in the area could have introduced the bacteria into the river."

The panel experts called for UN peacekeepers travelling from cholera-endemic countries to be screened for the disease and to receive prophylactic antibiotics before their departure.

The investigators also recommended UN installations worldwide treat faecal waste using on-site systems to "inactivate pathogens before disposal".

The panel concludes the epidemic "was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual".

They say the Artibonite river's canal system and delta "provide optimal environmental conditions for the rapid proliferation" of cholera.

Experts point to deficiencies in the healthcare, water and sanitation systems in Haiti, saying without these factors "environmental contamination with faeces could not have been the source of such an outbreak".

Further, Haitians lack immunity to the disease which has been absent from the country for nearly a century, they say.

The results come as medical aid groups in the country raise concerns of a new surge of the disease as the spring rainy season begins.

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