U.N. finds several reasons for Haitian cholera outbreak

An independent panel created by the United Nations to investigate the source of the devastating cholera outbreak in Haiti that began last October has found that a “confluence of circumstances” was responsible for the outbreak.

The report by the four member panel of experts found that the outbreak was not the fault of any group or individual. The report also includes a series of recommendations for the Haitian government and the U.N. to prevent the future introduction and spread of cholera into the country.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that he will convene a task force to study the report’s findings “to ensure prompt and appropriate follow-up.”

The experts’ report said that the evidence “overwhelmingly supports” the conclusion that the source was human activity contaminating a tributary of the Artibonite River with a strain “very similar but not identical” to South Asian strains circulating in Asia currently.

The factors that led to the outbreak spreading so quickly included thousands of agriculture workers who are regularly exposed to the river waters, especially those who work in the rice paddy fields; tens of thousands of Haitians using the river system for washing, bathing, drinking and recreation; the country suffering from poor water and sanitation conditions; infected individuals fleeing their home communities after initial reports of the outbreak, dispersing the outbreak; and the local population lacking immunity to cholera.

“The introduction of this cholera strain as a result of environmental contamination with feces could not have been the source of such an outbreak without simultaneous water and sanitation and health-care system deficiencies,” the report said. “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 Independent Panel concludes that the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances as described above, and was not the fault or, or deliberate action of, a group or individual.”

The report recommends that emergency responders and U.N. personnel traveling from cholera-endemic areas should receive a prophylactic dose of appropriate antibiotics before departure or be screened to confirm the absence of relevant cholera strains.