Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today named four top medical experts to an independent panel to investigate the cause of a cholera epidemic in Haiti amid media reports that Nepalese peacekeepers from the United Nations mission there may have been the source.
The panel will be chaired by Alejandro Cravioto of Mexico, from the International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh. The other three members are Claudio Lanata of the Instituto de Investigacion Nutritional in Peru, Daniele Lantagne of Harvard University in the United States, and Balakrish Nair of the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases in India.
“The members of the panel have been selected based on their global stature, expertise and extensive experience working with cholera in all its aspects,” a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said, stressing that the panel will operate completely independently of the UN and have access to all UN records, reports and facilities as it probes an epidemic that, as of last month, has killed at least 2,800 people and infected 130,000 others.
Widespread media reports have said Nepalese troops from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were the likely source of the outbreak, with infected water spreading from their base into a nearby tributary of the Artibonite River, used for drinking and washing by many rural Haitians.
In announcing his intention to appoint the panel last month, Mr. Ban noted that there were several theories, and not all reports reached the same conclusion, with MINUSTAH and the Government conducting several tests, all of them negative. But he stressed that “there remain fair questions and legitimate concerns that demand the best answer that science can provide.”
Today’s statement said Mr. Ban had been deeply concerned by the outbreak since the first cases were detected in October. “Determining the source of the cholera outbreak is important for both the United Nations and the people of Haiti,” it added.
The epidemic has struck while Haiti is still reeling from a devastating earthquake that killed over 200,000 people and displaced some 1.3 million others, most of them still living in crowded and unsanitary tent camps as the disaster’s first anniversary approaches on 12 January.
MINUSTAH, currently with nearly 12,000 military and police personnel, has been on the ground in Haiti since mid-2004 after then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile amid violent unrest.