Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today appealed to the world for more funds to fight the cholera epidemic in Haiti that has already killed more than 2,400 people and infected nearly 110,000 others, 55,000 of whom had to be hospitalized.
At the same time, he announced the creation of an independent scientific panel to investigate the source of the outbreak amid widespread media reports that Nepalese peacekeepers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) are the likely source, with infected water spreading from their base into a nearby tributary of the Artibonite River.
“We need more funding,” Mr. Ban told a news conference in New York, noting that a $164 million appeal is only 21 per cent funded. “Haiti needs more doctors, nurses, medical supplies, and it needs them urgently… Our first priority continues to be saving lives.”
He said it was crucial to get the message “out, far and wide” that the disease can be managed through early treatment and some clear and simple steps, including washing hands with soap. Cholera is spread by contaminated food and water.
Turning to the controversial issue of the origins of the outbreak, Mr. Ban noted there were several theories, and not all reports reached the same conclusion. MINUSTAH and the Government have conducted a number of tests, but all so far have been negative.
“But there remain fair questions and legitimate concerns that demand the best answer that science can provide,” he added. “That is why, pursuant to close consultation with Dr. Margaret Chan of WHO [UN World Health Organization], I am announcing today the creation of an international scientific panel to investigate the source of the cholera epidemic.”
The panel will be completely independent and have full access to all UN premises and personnel, he stressed, adding that further details will be provided when it is finalized. “We want to make the best effort to get to the bottom of this and find answers that the people of Haiti deserve,” he said.
Earlier this week UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake visited a cholera treatment centre in an impoverished area of Port-au-Prince, the capital, where he pledged continued UN support and stressed that the most important partners in defeating cholera are Haitians themselves, who need to understand that the disease is preventable and treatable through proper hygienic measures.
“As always, and without exception, children are the most adversely impacted by crises such as this cholera epidemic and the January earthquake. The responsibility we all share is to ensure that children and families are protected from these emergencies as well as from the recent political tensions,” he said, referring to last month’s disputed presidential and legislative elections
He stressed that the current environment of uncertainty and insecurity in Haiti places children and families at even greater physical risk and also inhibits the efforts of humanitarian agencies such as UNICEF.