- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 7, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI (AP) - A contingent of U.N. peacekeepers is the likely source of a cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed at least 2,000 people, a French scientist said in a report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Epidemiologist Renaud 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.

“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,” he wrote in a report that has not been publicly released.

The report also calls for a further investigation of the outbreak, improved medical surveillance and sanitation procedures for U.N. peacekeeping troops and better support for Haitian health authorities.


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.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York that there is still no conclusive evidence that its base was the source of the outbreak. He said the organization “remains very receptive to any scientific debate or investigation on this.”

The report’s revelation comes on a day of high tensions in Haiti, as people anxiously await the results of the disputed Nov. 28 presidential election and potential resulting violence.

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.

“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,” he wrote.

The report also 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.

Nepalese troops earlier confirmed they had replaced a leaking pipe, which contained a foul-smelling runoff that the U.N. denies was human waste, between two visits by an AP reporter in October. The AP also found the local contractor dumped waste into overflowing pools dangerously close to a hillside that drains into the river.

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.

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 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed in October that the strain of cholera bacteria in Haiti matched one from South Asia, a region that includes Nepal, but said it had no further information about the cause of the outbreak at the time.

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