Report: UN troops likely source of Haiti cholera outbreak

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Wednesday December 8, 2010 – A leaked report on an investigation into the cholera epidemic in Haiti has linked the outbreak to United Nations peacekeeping troops, despite conclusive evidence, and has also hinted at the possibility of a cover-up.

The report by French disease expert Renaud Piarroux, which was commissioned by the French and Haitian governments, has suggested that poor sanitation at the UN camp for Nepalese troops – and specifically their toilets’ contamination of the Arbonite river that runs alongside the base at Mirebalais in central Haiti – was the source of the disease that has killed more than 2,000 people in Haiti since it surfaced in October.

“No other hypothesis could be found to explain the outbreak of a cholera epidemic,” Pirraoux wrote.

The first cases of cholera in this outbreak were on the banks of the Artibonite river.

The document has not yet been made public but the Associated Press said it had obtained a copy from an official on condition of anonymity. Piarroux confirmed to the news agency that he had authored the report but declined to speak about the findings.

In the report, the epidemiologist said that he could not prove there was cholera inside the base or among the soldiers because septic tanks and pipes that would have helped confirm sanitation problems were not there when he visited.

“It cannot be ruled out that steps have been taken to remove the suspected fecal matter and to erase the traces of an epidemic of cholera among the soldiers,” Piarroux wrote.

The scientist called for further investigation of the outbreak, improved medical surveillance and sanitation procedures for UN peacekeeping troops, and better support for Haitian health authorities.

Nepal army, UN react to report

A spokesman for the Nepalese army has condemned the report.

“It’s a hypothetical conclusion and we strongly condemn the making of such allegations with no firm evidence or facts,” Raminda Chhetri told French news agency AFP. “I don’t think that we have seen any concrete evidence so far.”

Meantime, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said the organisation was “neither accepting nor dismissing” the report, adding that it “needs to be looked into further.”

He said the UN “remains very receptive to any scientific debate or investigation”.

The UN has consistently denied its soldiers’ sanitation practices are responsible for the outbreak. 

It has had to defend the Nepalese forces ever since rumours of their culpability surfaced and sparked violent demonstrations, shortly after the epidemic began. 

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly last week that the UN had conducted its own tests of the peacekeepers’ camp and commissioned others and none of them have so far pointed to the Nepalese soldiers.

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