Posts Tagged ‘UN cholera’

A mealy-mouthed apology from Ban Ki-moon for UN cholera in Haiti

December 4, 2016

The  behaviour of the UN, as an organisation, far too often is a case of when the lowest common behaviour of the  collective prevails. Ban Ki-moon’s term has been distinguished by his cowardice. He makes politically correct noises as told to by his staff. I get the impression that during his term he put his own mind on the shelf and gave up on thinking. About lapses of UN behaviour, – whether about sexual predation by UN troops in Africa or about UN incompetence in Haiti – he has been remarkably circumspect.

Now Ban Ki-moon has made a half-hearted, mealy-mouthed apology about UN behaviour after the outbreak of UN cholera in Haiti but has, again, lacked the courage to address the fact that the UN introduced the cholera.

un-cholera

New York Times:

After six years and 10,000 deaths, the United Nations issued a carefully worded public apology on Thursday for its role in the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti and the widespread suffering it has caused since then.

The mea culpa, which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered before the General Assembly, avoided any mention of who brought cholera to Haiti, even though the disease was not present in the country until United Nations peacekeepers arrived from Nepal, where an outbreak was underway.

The peacekeepers lived on a base that often leaked waste into a river, and the first cholera cases in the country appeared in Haitians who lived nearby. Numerous scientists have long argued that the base was the source of the outbreak, but for years United Nations officials refused to accept responsibility.

Even though Mr. Ban’s office has acknowledged that the United Nations had played a role in the outbreak, his apology on Thursday was limited to how the world body responded to the outbreak, not how it started. 

“We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti,” Mr. Ban said on Thursday. “We are profoundly sorry about our role.” ………

……. The United Nations has not yet met its promise to eradicate cholera once and for all from Haiti, though Mr. Ban’s aides said on Thursday that they were close to raising the $200 million they say they need to fix Haiti’s water and sanitation system and treat Haitians for cholera. Nor has the United Nations yet raised an additional $200 million it wants for “material assistance” to families and communities that have suffered; donor nations have not yet come forward with the funds.


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UN finally admits it caused cholera in Haiti – and immediately claims immunity

August 19, 2016

The UN introduced cholera to Haiti which has killed some 10,000 (and perhaps up to 30,000). This was apparent over 5 years ago.

It is not just UN incompetence – mistakes happen – which increases my level of bile. It is partly because the UN actions amounted to gross negligence and could have been prevented with trivial amounts of money. It is the knee-jerk denial of responsibility and – always – the claim of immunity (just in case they are found to be responsible). It applies as well to cholera in Haiti as to the sexual exploitation of poor African children by UN troops. And Ban Ki Moon – may his name be forever exalted – has been the Denier-In-Chief. There ought to be a public dismissal of the irresponsible incompetents. But that will never happen.

The UN and its agencies has more than its fair share of incompetents. Many countries appoint UN officials as a political reward. That gives us incompetent doctors, engineers, economists and administrators in many key positions, who are there either as a sinecure and/or a political reward. Of course these are just a few “bad apples”, but when they are bad they are horrid. That’s bad enough but what is obscene is that they are immune from any consequences of their incompetence.

I would have thought that these highly-paid, privileged and protected officials, particularly in such institutions (UN, EU, EC, WB, IMF, WHO, ADB …..), rather than being granted immunity, should be held to much higher standards of performance and accountability than any other bureaucrats.

A special rapporteur has slammed the UN in a confidential report to the UN. The epidemic “would not have broken out but for the actions of the United Nations.” The United Nations’ Haiti cholera policy “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.”

NYT:

For the first time since a cholera epidemic believed to be imported by United Nations peacekeepers began killing thousands of Haitians nearly six years ago, the office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has acknowledged that the United Nations played a role in the initial outbreak and that a “significant new set of U.N. actions” will be needed to respond to the crisis.

The deputy spokesman for the secretary general, Farhan Haq, said in an email this week that “over the past year, the U.N. has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera.” He added that a “new response will be presented publicly within the next two months, once it has been fully elaborated, agreed with the Haitian authorities and discussed with member states.”

The statement comes on the heels of a confidential report sent to Mr. Ban by a longtime United Nations adviser on Aug. 8. Written by Philip Alston, a New York University law professor who serves as one of a few dozen experts, known as special rapporteurs, who advise the organization on human rights issues, the draft language stated plainly that the epidemic “would not have broken out but for the actions of the United Nations.

The secretary general’s acknowledgment, by contrast, stopped short of saying that the United Nations specifically caused the epidemic. Nor does it indicate a change in the organization’s legal position that it is absolutely immune from legal actions, including a federal lawsuit brought in the United States on behalf of cholera victims seeking billions in damages stemming from the Haiti crisis.

But it represents a significant shift after more than five years of high-level denial of any involvement or responsibility of the United Nations in the outbreak, which has killed at least 10,000 people and sickened hundreds of thousands. Cholera victims suffer from dehydration caused by severe diarrhea or vomiting. …. 

Special rapporteurs’ reports are technically independent guidance, which the United Nations can accept or reject. United Nations officials have until the end of this week to respond to the report, which will then go through revisions, but the statement suggests a new receptivity to its criticism.

In the 19-page report, obtained from an official who had access to it, Mr. Alston took issue with the United Nations’ public handling of the outbreak, which was first documented in mid-October 2010, shortly after people living along the Meille River began dying from the disease. ……. 

….. Mr. Alston wrote that the United Nations’ Haiti cholera policy “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.” He added, “It is also entirely unnecessary.” The organization’s continuing denial and refusal to make reparations to the victims, he argued, “upholds a double standard according to which the U.N. insists that member states respect human rights, while rejecting any such responsibility for itself.”

He said, “It provides highly combustible fuel for those who claim that U.N. peacekeeping operations trample on the rights of those being protected, and it undermines both the U.N.’s overall credibility and the integrity of the Office of the Secretary-General.”

UN Cholera


UN evades responsibility for at least 9,000 cholera deaths (supported by Obama)

June 30, 2016

Haiti-cholera-UN1

The UN introduced cholera to Haiti which caused the deaths of at least 9,000 (officially 9,000, unofficially about 30,000 and with a possibility of being up to 100,000 deaths). The UN culpability and incompetence is clear. The outbreak could have been prevented “if the UN had spent just $2,000 for advance health checks and preventive antibiotics for their troops from Nepal who carried the disease. The cost of the UN incompetence in addition to the 9,000 lives lost is now estimated to be over $2 billion”. But the UN denies responsibility. In March this year came reports that “the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has been chastised by five of the UN’s own human rights experts who accuse him of undermining the world body’s credibility and reputation by denying responsibility for the devastating outbreak of cholera in Haiti. In a withering letter to the UN chief, the five special rapporteurs say that his refusal to allow cholera victims any effective remedy for their suffering has stripped thousands of Haitians of their fundamental right to justice”.

The US has been supporting Ban Ki-moon both in his denial of responsibility and in his claim of immunity for all UN actions. “Naturally anybody on UN duty is immune from any prosecution – even for blatant incompetence or gross negligence”.

Now The Guardian reports that a bipartisan group of 158 members of Congress have criticised Obama for his stance:

A bipartisan group of 158 members of Congress has accused the Obama administration of a failure of leadership over the cholera scandal in Haiti in which at least 30,000 people have died as a result of an epidemic caused by the United Nations for which the world body refuses to accept responsibility.

A joint letter highly critical of US policy – and devastatingly critical of the UN – has been sent to the US secretary of state, John Kerry, signed by 12 Republican and 146 Democratic members of Congress. Led by John Conyers, a Democratic congressman from Michigan, and Mia Love, a Republican congresswoman from Utah, the letter’s signatories include many of the most senior voices on foreign affairs on Capitol Hill.

The missive takes the Obama administration to task for failing to admonish the UN for its refusal to accept responsibility for the cholera outbreak. “We are deeply concerned that the State Department’s failure to take more leadership in the diplomatic realm might be perceived by our constituents and the world as a limited commitment to an accountable and credible UN,” the letter says.

It continues: “We respectfully urge the Department of State to treat the issue of a just and accountable UN response to Haiti’s cholera with the urgency that 10,000-100,000 deaths and catastrophic damage to the UN’s credibility deserves.”

….. As part of the UN’s dogged denial of culpability, the organization has made a blanket rejection of calls for compensation contained in a class action lawsuit filed in New York by victims of the disaster. The world body is claiming immunity from damages in the case. The US government chose to represent the UN’s defense in the litigation in front of the federal second circuit appeals court. That prompted the three-member panel of judges to question US lawyers over the Obama administration’s apparent unwillingness to use its diplomatic muscle to force the UN to shift its contentious position. …..

With cholera still raging in parts of Haiti, and aid groups on the ground reporting ongoing suffering amid inadequate provision of medical help and sanitation, the Congress members called on the state department to “immediately and unreservedly exercise its leadership … Each day that passes without an appropriate UN response is a tragedy for Haitian cholera victims, and a stain on the UN’s reputation.”

Of course the US claims the same kind of immunity for its troops on active missions abroad (and the US has even tried to claim that kind of immunity for those accused of rape on Okinawa but had to give way eventually). So perhaps the Obama government’s defence of Ban Ki-moon is just a self-serving but unprincipled exercise to protect their own position regarding the responsibility of their troops when abroad.

But it is a shameful position.


 

UN cholera which killed 9,000 could have been prevented for $2,000

April 14, 2016

The UN peace keeping force which moved to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake introduced cholera which killed 9,000 people. Haiti had not, for at least 100 years, and possibly never before, had a cholera outbreak. A new Yale study shows that it could have been prevented if the UN had spent just $2,000 for advance health checks and preventive antibiotics for their troops from Nepal who carried the disease. The cost of the UN incompetence in addition to the 9,000 lives lost is now estimated to be over $2 billion.

Of course, Ban Ki-moon spent months spinning the story and denying responsibility. (Just as he is still denying UN responsibility for the sexual predations of UN troops in Africa). Naturally anybody on UN duty is immune from any prosecution – even for blatant incompetence or gross negligence.

It can only be considered incompetence on the part of the UN when the study states “Prior to the outbreak, there were no biomedical interventions in place to prevent its occurrence despite the recognized risk for spread of infectious diseases from military to civilian populations”.

JA Lewnard et al, Strategies to Prevent Cholera Introduction during International Personnel Deployments: A Computational Modeling Analysis Based on the 2010 Haiti Outbreak, January 26, 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001947

One of the most severe cholera epidemics of the modern era began in Haiti in 2010, causing over 700,000 reported cases and nearly 9,000 deaths to date. Prior to the outbreak, cholera had been absent from Haiti for over a century. Several pieces of evidence have contributed to widespread acceptance that the epidemic resulted from contamination of the Artibonite watershed with infected sewage from a United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) base. The causative Vibrio cholerae strain was imported from Nepal and diverged from strains circulating in that country around the time 454 Nepalese troops were deployed to Haiti, and the first cholera cases in Haiti were seen downstream from the base days after troops arrived.

…. The cholera outbreak in Haiti arose from a confluence of preventable circumstances. Systemic inadequacies in sanitation infrastructure made Haiti vulnerable to water-borne disease, like other disaster-affected settings where peacekeeping operations are undertaken. Mass personnel movements from a cholera-endemic country and deficient waste management practices at a MINUSTAH base led to the introduction of V. cholerae to a susceptible population. Prior to the outbreak, there were no biomedical interventions in place to prevent its occurrence despite the recognized risk for spread of infectious diseases from military to civilian populations. While the UN has been reluctant to implement interventions in the wake of the epidemic in part due to uncertainties surrounding their effectiveness, our findings suggest antimicrobial chemoprophylaxis reduces the risk of disease introduction by over 90%. The low costs and minimal logistical burden of chemoprophylaxis relative to the other interventions suggest this approach warrants consideration as a strategy to limit risk for cholera introduction in future peacekeeping operations.

The Guardian writes:

The devastating Haiti cholera epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives and will cost more than $2bn to eradicate could have been prevented if the United Nations had used a basic health kit for a total of less than $2,000, scientists have found.

A team of Yale epidemiologists and lawyers has looked at how the cholera bacterium was introduced to Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers relocated there in the aftermath of its 2010 earthquake. Yale’s startling finding is that simple screening tests costing $2.54 each, combined with preventive antibiotics at less than $1 per peacekeeper, could have avoided one of the worst outbreaks of the deadly disease in modern history.

The Yale experts warn that the catastrophe in Haiti could be repeated as the UN appears to have failed to learn the lessons of its lack of preventive screening of peacekeepers. Some 150,000 UN peacekeepers are deployed from cholera-endemic countries each year but there is still no routine procedure to ensure they are free of the infection before being moved.

At least 9,000 Haitians, and possibly many more, have died in the continuing cholera epidemic that erupted in October 2010, it is thought as a result of untreated sewage from UN peacekeeping camps being dumped straight into a river. It was the first outbreak of the disease in Haiti in 150 years, and was almost certainly caused by the relocation of UN peacekeepers from Nepal, where cholera is present, to Haiti for emergency earthquake assistance.

Related:

UN’s own experts chastise Ban Ki-moon over handling of Haiti cholera outbreak


Callous UN claims immunity to escape compensation for introducing cholera to Haiti

February 22, 2013

The UN has claimed immunity to avoid any compensation for introducing cholera to Haiti.

Sometime in October / November 2010, cholera was introduced into Haiti by Nepali UN troops. These troops were not sufficiently screened by the UN before being deployed and many were carriers of a Nepali strain of cholera. Even though they were being introduced into a region recovering from an earthquake the troops received no information or training regarding good practices regarding sewage handling or preventing the spread of infection.  The outbreak of cholera that was caused by broken sewage pipes from their camp developed into a virulent and catastrophic epidemic  in the infrastructural chaos that prevailed in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake.  There is little doubt that this was the cause of the outbreak though this has never been acknowledged by the UN. The subsequent efforts made by the UN and the WHO  to fight the epidemic were not also free of criticism. Cheap but untested vaccines were deployed to contain costs. Till UN cholera arrived, Haiti had been free of cholera for over 100 years. Some 600,000 were infected in currently the largest outbreak in the world and almost 8,000 people have died. This virulent South Asian strain of cholera is now established in the Americas.

UN Cholera: image Reuters - Allison Shelley

UN Cholera: image Reuters – Allison Shelley

And now the UN has claimed immunity to avoid having to pay any compensation. The immunity is claimed under its own “UN’s Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN”. Of course the moral compass of the UN is only as good as that of its worst member but considering the overwhelming poverty in Haiti, invoking this convention seems a particularly callous and cowardly path to follow. It would seem that the UN (read the “world community”) does not put a very high value on a Haitian life. Cheap troops, cheap vaccines, cheap practices and no compensation! Perhaps the “world community” represented by the UN believes that Haiti has already received more than its fair share of economic support?

BBC: 

The United Nations has formally rejected compensation claims by victims of a cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed almost 8,000 people. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Haitian President Michel Martelly to inform him of the decision.

The UN says it is immune from such claims under the UN’s Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN. Evidence suggests cholera was introduced to Haiti through a UN base’s leaking sewage pipes. The UN has never acknowledged responsibility for the outbreak – which has infected more than 600,000 people – saying it is impossible to pinpoint the exact source of the disease, despite the mounting evidence the epidemic was caused by poor sanitation at a camp housing infected Nepalese peacekeepers. 

In a terse statement, Mr Ban’s spokesman said damages claims for millions of dollars filed by lawyers for cholera victims was “not receivable” under the 1947 convention that grants the UN immunity for its actions. …… 

……. The lawyer, Brian Concannon, said the victims’ legal team would challenge the UN’s right to immunity from Haitian courts, on the grounds that it had not established an alternative mechanism for dealing with accountability issues, as stipulated in its agreement with the government.

He also said lifting immunity would not challenge UN policy, which is protected by the convention, but its practice, such as how to test troops for disease and properly dispose of sewage.

One year on, cheap but untested vaccines to be deployed against cholera in Haiti

October 25, 2011

The UN introduced cholera to Haiti and is now embarking on a vaccination program with a vaccine which has been hurriedly approved just in September this year.

Last October the claims that the UN had introduced the disease into Haiti were initially denied but in May this year the United Nations released a long-awaited report indicating that human waste from Nepalese peacekeepers along with dirty drinking water likely triggered the spread of the cholera epidemic that has gripped Haiti since October 2010.

As of last week the cholera outbreak in Haiti has caused 473,649 cases 251,885 hospitalizations and 6,631 deaths. The number of deaths is thought to be an underestimate.

(more…)

Case of UN cholera reaches Florida from Haiti while UN “spins” information

November 18, 2010

UPDATE from Operational Biosurveillance:

Current official stats are more than 18,382 cases and 1,110 fatalities.  This includes more than 1,800 cases in Port au Prince with over 30 fatalities.

  • Conservative estimates therefore suggest 75,000 cases of cholera in Haiti to-date, the majority of which were subclinical.
  • In some areas of Haiti, we have confirmation that in-patient statistics are under-reported by as much as 400%. In many areas of Haiti, we are documenting outbreaks that are not being accounted for in the official statistics.  We therefore estimate the upper bound of estimated case counts to be 250,000.
  • We are now pursuing answers to the question of uptake by indigenous zooplankton and spread along oceanic currents that pass west of the Gonave Gulf, which is where the Artibonite River discharges, north and west along the northern Cuban coastline and north to the waters east of Florida.
  • Tomorrow is Vertieres Day, where we may see some degree of population mixing, particularly in the north.  It is unclear at this time to what degree the recent violence will affect observance of the holiday.  Holidays are opportunities to spread disease further as populations intermingle.

As noted by HEAS one week ago and yesterday officially acknowledged, cholera is in the  Dominican Republic.  We expect to see medical clinic inundations inside DR in the near future.

As expected, Florida has reported a case of cholera in a returned traveler.  There will be more cases in the United States; we believe it likely more cases are inside the US unreported.  Implications for the United States are neglible.

The cholera introduced into Haiti by the UN has spread not only into the Dominican Republic but also to Florida through a traveller from Haiti. Diplomats have confirmed that the disease has come with UN troops from Nepal where the disease is endemic. It is unlikely to spread in the US since the propagation of cholera is through water or food that is contaminated by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.  For an epidemic, the source is often the feces of infected people. The New York Times reports:

The first known case of cholera in the United States linked to the outbreak in Haiti was confirmed Wednesday by health officials who said a southwest Florida woman contracted the disease while visiting family in a region at the heart of Haiti’s epidemic.

The Florida Department of Health was investigating several suspected cases of the disease elsewhere in the state. They were not believed to be connected to the verified patient, who sought treatment this month at a hospital emergency room in Collier County. The woman spent five days in hospital after developing diarrhea and dehydration, classic symptoms of cholera, following her return from Haiti, where she had spent time in the Artibonite region. She is expected to recover fully.

“We are lucky in the state of Florida, and the U.S. generally, to have a very sound infrastructure for our food, water and sewage,” said Rob Hayes, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health. “With that in place, and with our aggressive public health practices, we are not concerned about this being a significant public health threat.”

The situation is more dangerous in the Dominican Republic where conditions are more conducive to the spread of the disease. In Haiti official reports give over 1100 deaths and over 18,000 infected.

There are reports that the actual number of cases may be being grossly under-reported.

On November 14, Operational Biosurveillance said it confirmed statistics of up to 400% undercounting.

“We now have nearly 60k cases shedding pathogen into the environment. We believe the true statistic to be closer to more than 100k based on the degree of under-reporting. It is extremely difficult to estimate the true scale of this epidemic now. (It’s) grossly uncontrolled, uncontained, (and) has exceeded public health capacity to investigate and assess every site reported and every sample received.”

It seems that political considerations are now leading to all information being subject to political “spin”.

  1. For reasons of not upsetting the Nepalese Government and to defuse the local anger, the UN officially denies that the cholera originated with the troops from that country.
  2. With elections due in Haiti in just two weeks all information about the cause of the outbreak and the extent of the spread is being down-played to avoid further exploitation by some politicians and further riots.

Haiti – till now – had been free of cholera for over a hundred years. No doubt the priority now must be to treat those infected and contain the spread of the disease. But UN processes are clearly wanting and the sooner they come out of “denial” and address their own methods and processes the better.


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