Study Connecting Army to Haiti Cholera Draws Flak in Nepal
The Nepalese army has strongly condemned the study connecting its UN peacekeepers to a cholera outbreak which claimed the life of more than 2,000 people in Haiti.
The army said there was no evidence to support the conclusions of a respected French epidemiologist who was invited by the Haitian government to study the cause of the outbreak, the country's first in decades.
The United Nations has repeatedly insisted there is no proof any of its troops were responsible for introducing the infection to Haiti, but many local people still blame the peacekeepers.
"We strongly condemn the making of such allegations with no firm evidence or facts," Nepal army spokesman Ramindra Chhetri told AFP in Kathmandu, calling the report's conclusions "hypothetical".
"I don't think that we have seen any concrete evidence so far (linking the epidemic with Nepalese troops)."
A total of 90,000 Haitians have been infected since mid-October and experts say hundreds of thousands could eventually be hit by the disease in a country still struggling with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in January which killed a quarter of a million people.
Cholera is caused by bacteria spread in contaminated water or food, often through faeces. If untreated, it can kill within a day through dehydration, with the old and the young the most vulnerable.
The results of cholera expert Renaud Piarroux's research have not yet been published, but a source who asked not to be named told AFP it traced the infection to Nepalese soldiers serving in Haiti.
The infection must have originated from a UN base at Mirebalais on the Artibonite river in central Haiti that houses Nepalese peacekeepers, the source said.
"There is no other possible explanation given that there was no cholera in the country, and taking into account the intensity and the speed of the spread and the concentration of bacteria in the Artibonite delta," he added.
"The most logical explanation is the massive introduction of faecal matter into the Artibonite river on a single occasion."
Cholera is endemic in Nepal, and Haitian officials say the first cases in the latest outbreak were on the banks of the Artibonite river, downstream of the UN base.
Edmond Mulet, head of the UN mission in Haiti, said in November none of its soldiers had tested positive for cholera and all samples taken from the latrines, kitchens and water supply at the suspect camp had proved negative.
Nonetheless, many in Haiti blame the UN for the cholera outbreak, which came months after the deadly earthquake that left 1.3 million living in refugee camps.
The Nepalese contingent of just over 1,000 troops and police have been under special protection since demonstrations in November in which at least two people died.
Piarroux, who works at France's University of the Mediterranean, said last month that the world had not seen cholera spread so quickly since an outbreak in Goma, in eastern Congo, in 1994.
"The epidemic exploded in an extremely violent way on October 19, with several thousand cases and several hundreds deaths after many people drank the water of the Artibonite delta," he said.
The French foreign ministry said it had received a copy of the report and passed it on to the United Nations for investigation.
About 12,000 UN personnel from dozens of countries are deployed in Haiti after years of armed conflict and the earthquake in January.