Haiti: genome study confirms UN troops brought cholera

A comparison that Danish and US researchers have made of the whole genomes of cholera bacteria found in patients in Haiti and in Nepal provides nearly conclusive evidence that Nepalese soldiers in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were the inadvertent cause of a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 6,000 Haitians. The genomes are “practically identical,” Harvard University microbiologist John Mekalanos told the magazine Science. “This is as close as you can come to molecular proof.”

The first cases of cholera were reported in October 2010 around the city of Mirebalais in Haiti’s Central Plateau. Local people blamed MINUSTAH troops at a base where they said had fecal matter had leaked into a nearby river. The soldiers at the base had recently arrived from Nepal, right after an outbreak of cholera there. On-the-ground research by a French epidemiologist, Dr. Renaud Piarroux, supported the Haitians’ suspicions, as have subsequent studies, but MINUSTAH spokespeople have repeatedly denied that there’s proof of the claim. With the new study, which was published on Aug. 23, the United Nations should take full responsibility by paying compensation or by backing a massive effort to stop the epidemic, Piarroux told Science. “More than 6,000 people are dead,” he said. “It’s our fault, as the people of the world.” (Science, Aug. 23)

The genome report appeared as MINUSTAH troops were being blamed for further unsanitary practices in the Central Plateau. There were reports that human wastes were dumped in the Guayamouc River near Hinche, capital of Center department, on Aug. 6 and in the Ahibon River, near Fort Marmont, 15 km from Hinche, on Aug. 21. MINUSTAH has denied the charges. Dozens of people protested on Aug. 21, shooting guns, throwing stones and blocking National Route 3, which passes through Hinche, for more than an hour. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Aug. 23)

On Aug. 11 an organization in the southern coastal town of Port-Salut, the Research Committee for the Development and Organization of Port-Salut (CREDOP), charged that MINUSTAH troops from Uruguayan were prostituting impoverished underage Haitians at their base. The Uruguayan navy denied the accusations on Aug. 16, saying it had conducted an interrogation of all 108 troops on the base. The Uruguayan contingent is studying the possibility of suing CREDOP for unfounded allegations. (Haiti Press Network, Aug. 11; TeleSUR, Aug. 17) [MINUSTAH troops from Sri Lanka were repatriated in 2007 because of similar charges.]

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 28.

See our last post on Haiti.