by Stacey Singer
Laika Valcoure, 16 months-old, suffering from cholera symptoms, is held by her mother at a local hospital in Limbe, near Cap Haitien, Haiti. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
There’s new evidence that the strain of cholera raging through Haiti today is an especially toxic one that was delivered by United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal, sent to respond to Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010.
The news comes two months after the United Nations claimed immunity from any financial responsibility for the return of cholera to Haiti, citing a 1946 document, the Convention on Privileges and Immunities.
Cholera is an intestinal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It can cause such severe and sudden diarrhea that the rapid loss of body fluids causes dehydration, shock and death. Haiti had been free of it for a century before the 2010 outbreak. It’s frequently spread by contaminated water.
Since October 2010, according to the Haitian government, 8,055 people have died of cholera; 614 of them were small children, under 5. More than 653,000 people have been sickened, widely believed to be an under count.
The strain of cholera circulating in Haiti is different from that in most of the globe, according to research by Scientists at Northwestern University, writing in the open-access journal mBio, published by the American Society for Microbiology.
It produces large amounts of Cholera toxin, similar to historically devastating strains that ravaged the globe 200 years ago, while not producing the toxin MARTX seen in most other cholera strains, the scientists found. A strain circulating in Nepal has the same trait.
The response from the United Nations to this new evidence? Silence.
Last December, the UN put out this fact sheet:
“Strengthening Haitian capacity to respond to cholera remains the central objective behind all UN efforts. Overall, the UN system in Haiti has spent an estimated USD 118 million to respond to the epidemic since its outbreak…..”
But international commitments to spend more to secure sanitation, clean water and basic health services in Haiti have not been fully funded, the UN said:
“…As of 04 December, the Appeal has only been funded at 40 per cent or about US$61 million, making it one of the most under-funded CAPs worldwide.”
More troubling: The epidemic appears to be rising again, with the return of spring rains. The Haitian news site HaitiLibre published this on April 12 from the Health Centre Evangelical of the Mission for Christ in Petit-Goâve:
“… In two days, more than 20 cholera patients have been transported, in particularly difficult conditions to the Health Center of the Mission.”
“Patients are transported in the arms of men to Allegue, the course lasts 4 hours, feces dumped on the road by infected persons pose a risk of propagation of the cholera epidemic in the rural areas. Every day new cases are recorded,” informed Pastor Mainviel Levy, Head of the Mission.”
There are a few non-governmental organizations attempting to help. One of them is Partners In Health, which maintains a cholera clinic in Mirebalais, in central Haiti.