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Haitian Health Ministry Says More Than 2,000 Have Died From Cholera; Report Identifies Outbreak’s Source, Some Dispute Findings

More than 2,000 people have died of cholera in Haiti since late October, Haitian officials said on Monday, the Associated Press/Washington Post reports (12/6). According to Haitian health ministry figures, a total of “2,013 people have died from the water-borne bacterial infection and 88,789 cases have been recorded,” Agence France-Presse writes (12/6).

On Tuesday, the French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux submitted a report to the French foreign ministry stating that Haiti’s cholera outbreak began at a camp for U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, AFP reports (12/7).

“Piarroux concluded that the cholera originated in a tributary of Haiti’s Artibonite river, next to a U.N. base outside the town of Mirebalais. He was sent by the French government to assist Haitian health officials in determining the source of the outbreak, a French Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday,” the AP/Seattle Times reports. The news service obtained a copy of the report, which has not yet been released publicly. “The AP obtained a copy of the report from an official who released it on condition of anonymity. Piarroux confirmed he had authored the report but declined in an e-mail interview to discuss his findings. Copies were sent to U.N. and Haitian officials, the foreign ministry confirmed.”

“No other hypothesis could be found to explain the outbreak of a cholera epidemic in this village … not affected by the earthquake earlier this year and located dozens of kilometers from the coast and (tent) camps,” Piarroux said in the report. “Piarroux could not prove there was cholera inside the base or among the soldiers, a point the U.N. has repeatedly used to deny its soldiers brought the disease to Haiti or that its sanitation procedures were responsible for releasing it into the environment. He writes that military doctors said there were no instances of cholera within the unit. But he also hinted strongly at a cover-up,” the AP writes.

“It can not be ruled out that steps have been taken to remove the suspected fecal matter and to erase the traces of an epidemic of cholera among the soldiers,” Piarroux wrote in the report, which “notes that septic tanks and pipes that would have helped to confirm sanitation problems and the presence of the bacteria were no longer at the base when he visited.”

“Piarroux’s is the first scientific report linking the base to the epidemic, though many other epidemiologists and public health experts have said for weeks that the soldiers are the most likely source of the infection,” according to the news service. “Other scientists and experts say it is possible that ocean currents or other climate-related events carried the bacteria to Haiti. Further studies on bacterial samples that could address those questions are ongoing,” the news service writes (Katz, 12/7).

Meanwhile, the “Nepalese army on Wednesday reacted angrily” to the report, AFP reports. “We strongly condemn the making of such allegations with no firm evidence or facts,” Ramindra Chhetri, a Nepalese army spokesperson in Kathmandu, said. “I don’t think that we have seen any concrete evidence so far (linking the epidemic with Nepalese troops),” Chhetri said (Cozens, 12/8).

Vincenzo Pugliese, a spokesperson for the U.N. mission in Haiti, said, “We have not dismissed the report but we have not accepted it completely,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C reports. Pugliese added, “We remain open to investigating this and we will get to the bottom of it” (12/8).

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