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‘Confluence Of Circumstances’ Resulted In Haitian Cholera Outbreak, U.N.-Appointed Panel Says

Haiti’s cholera outbreak, which started last October, “was caused by a South Asian strain that contaminated a river where tens of thousands of people wash, bath, drink and play,” a report (.pdf) from an independent U.N.-appointed panel said on Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. “Although many have blamed the epidemic on U.N. peacekeepers from South Asia working in Haiti, the report issued by the panel declined to point the finger at any single group for the outbreak, saying it was the result of a ‘confluence of circumstances'” (5/4).

Evidence “‘overwhelmingly supports’ the conclusion that” human activity contaminated a “tributary of the Artibonite River with a pathogenic strain of cholera” and resulted in the epidemic, the report says, the U.N. News Centre writes. “The introduction of this cholera strain as a result of environmental contamination with faeces could not have been the source of such an outbreak without simultaneous water and sanitation and health-care system deficiencies,” according to the findings of the report. “These deficiencies, coupled with conducive environmental and epidemiological conditions, allowed the spread of the Vibrio cholerae organism in the environment, from which a large number of people became infected,” the report notes, concluding that the outbreak “was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual” (5/4).

“Panel members said Haiti’s outbreak underscored the need for U.N. personnel and other first responders coming from countries where cholera is endemic to be screened for the disease, receive a prophylactic dose of appropriate antibiotics before departure, or both,” the AP reports. The report also called for the U.N. to install on-site fecal waste systems in its locations around the world (5/4).

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he planned to “convene a task force” to examine the report recommendations, the Wall Street Journal reports (Lauria, 5/5).

Medical Group Detects Rise In Rural Cholera Cases In Haiti

In related news, Partners in Health said on Wednesday that it has detected an increase in cholera cases in rural areas of Haiti and is worried the outbreak might begin to surge with the start of the spring rainy season, the AP/Seattle Times reports. “At centers in Mirebalais, a central town near where the outbreak was first detected in October, the number of new cholera patients has roughly tripled in recent weeks, [PIH spokesperson Kathryn] Mahoney said,” the news service writes.

“However, Doctors Without Borders, which has had a leading role in responding to the cholera outbreak, is more optimistic. The group’s workers have seen a slight increase in new cases in the countryside but the overall number of cases in the country has been stable, said Sylvain Groulx, the group’s chief of mission in Haiti,” the AP reports. “These are little, little spikes,” Groulx said. “We’re not expecting to see a second peak” (5/4).

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