UN in talks to set up independent panel of experts to probe origin of cholera in Haiti

15 December 2010

The United Nations is exploring the establishment of an international scientific panel to look into the source of the cholera epidemic in Haiti.

“We are calling for an international panel and we are in discussions with WHO [the UN World Health Organization] to find the best experts to be in a panel, completely independent… [and] have the best investigation on the source of the outbreak,” the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), Alain Le Roy, told a press conference at UN Headquarters.

The Department later added that the Secretary-General is in discussions with interested stakeholders, including WHO, and that the panel will be completely independent and will have full access to all UN premises and personnel. The specific terms of reference will be established in the coming days and the SG may have more to say on this on Friday.

Haiti’s cholera epidemic, which broke out in October, has already killed more than 2,000 people, according to figures from Haiti’s Ministry of Health, with over 44,000 others hospitalized, even as the country struggles to recover from the January quake, which killed 200,000 people and displaced some 1.3 million others – most of whom are still living in crowded and unsanitary tent camps.

There have been widespread media reports claiming that UN peacekeepers from Nepal, serving with the UN stabilization mission in Haiti, are the likely source of the epidemic, with infected water having spread from their base into a nearby tributary of the Artibonite River.

Mr. Le Roy said experts who have studied the epidemic have so far come up with different theories on the origin of the infection. “There is no consensus among scientists on this issue,” he noted.

The peacekeeping chief added that none of the Nepalese peacekeepers had tested positive for cholera or shown any symptoms of the disease, and that repeated analyses of water from their camp have not detected the strain of the disease blamed for the epidemic.

On the controversy surrounding the provisional results of the general elections in Haiti, Mr. Le Roy reiterated the need for all candidates to file any complaints through legal means and to help avoid further violence. Candidates had until 4:00 p.m. local time on Wednesday to lodge complaints with Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council, which has proposed setting up a special verification committee to adjudicate the complaints.

The Caribbean nation, which has been dealing with the aftermath of January’s devastating earthquake and the cholera outbreak, went to the polls on 28 November to elect the president, senators and members of parliaments in constituencies where elections were due. Incidents of violence have been reported amid allegations of ballot rigging by some candidates.

Protesters have accused the ruling government coalition of rigging the results. Provisional tallies put former first lady Mirlande Manigat and the candidate of the outgoing President Rene Préval’s party, Jude Celestin, in first and second place, thus qualifying for January’s run-off.

Popular musician Michel Martelly was less than one percentage point behind in third place, but thus excluded from the run-off, and his supporters have been involved in the burning o timber barricades, boulders and flaming tires.

The UN’s stabilization mission, known as MINUSTAH, with nearly 12,000 military and police personnel currently on the ground, has been in Haiti since mid-2004 after then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile amid violent unrest.

 

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