The investigation published by the Independent Panel of Experts on the Cholera Outbreak in Haiti shows that the UN did cause the outbreak in that country and should be held responsible. Cholera is a severe, acute, dehydrating diarrhea that can kill children and adults in less than 12 hours. Cholera is the result of infection with a pathogenic strain of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which is capable of producing a potent toxin known as cholera toxin. However, the pathogenic strain has not been found in Haiti for the last hundred years.
The first case was recorded on October 22, 2010, just a couple of months after the arrival of the UN mission to the country after a devastating earthquake in 2010. Since cholera began its deadly march in October 2010, it took 7,000 lives and has not infected 300,000. The statistics show that Haiti is currently the country with the highest percent of infected people in the world, with the total of 5% of the population afflicted with the malicious virus. Had the UN conducted simple health checks on peacekeeping forces and more closely regulated human waste disposal, it is likely that the Cholera outbreak could have been prevented.
According to the Panel of Experts’ report, there are three possible reasons for the outbreak of the epidemic. The first one is that the pathogen (Vibrio cholerae) arrived into country through the Gulf of Mexico due to tectonic shifts in the ground caused by the earthquake. The second one is that the virus has evolved through the mutation of non-pathogenic strains naturally present in Haiti. The third theory is that the pathogen might have originated from the human host which introduced the strain into the Haitian environment. At first, the UN rejected this hypothesis. But the Panel’s findings that the specific pathogen present in Haiti is commonly found in the regions of South Asia, and that one part of the UN mission did indeed come from that particular region. This detail helped trace the disease to the UN camp in the Haitian town of Mirebalais, where a contingent of soldiers from Nepal was camped. The “epidemiologic and microbiologic evidence” obtained by the Panel, points out towards this small Asian country, for it is the only other country in the world that has suffered from a nationwide cholera infection.
After the Panel concluded that the evidence supports the conclusion that the source of the Haiti cholera outbreak was due a pathogenic strain of current South Asian type Vibrio cholerae as a result of human activity, the actions of the greatest international organization should be questioned. How is it possible that the organization did not conduct tests on the different diseases before sending its troops to the country, and after that did not equip its camps with the adequate fecal disposal facilities? This is a mistake that is still not openly admitted by the UN. However, from their actions and offerings that include millions of dollars for reducing effects of cholera infection in the country, it can be concluded that there is a visible sense of guilt and responsibility present within the organization.
The steps that must be taken now are presented in the recommendations in the Panel’s report, and one of the most important actions currently to be taken is to stop the epidemic from becoming endemic in the country.
As for the UN, future peacekeeping operations must be conducted after a number of preventive actions in the future. These should include screening of the UN personnel to confirm the absence of different pathogenic strains, taking better care of its camps in order to prevent contamination of the local environment and providing vaccines in the cases in which cholera is already present in the area of the UN activity.