Yet another study shows UN troops from Nepal brought cholera to Haiti in 201zzzzzzzz
Look, no one enjoys a good cholera epidemiology report more than me (ask my fiancée), but even I think this is getting old.
Don’t get me wrong, the new study published this past week in mBio is full of useful information. The 25-scientist team [led by the CDC's Lee S. Katz, no relation] offers critical insights into the structure of the cholera genome in Haiti. One is the most conclusive proof yet that the massively fatal disease was introduced in one fell swoop by a single source from Nepal. (It also contradicts the already shaky conclusion of a 2012 University of Maryland study that argued the epidemic might have been caused or significantly fueled by a local strain of Vibrio cholerae bacteria that doesn’t even produce the toxin that causes the disease of cholera.)
But for a non-scientist such as myself, inclined by training and experience toward the political and social bottom line, this doesn’t break a lot of ground. Or, as we say in my business: It ain’t news. We’ve had reason to suspect since the first days of the epidemic that UN soldiers from Nepal were its most likely source. And following a intense struggle for answers, that connection has been nailed by study after report after study after paper before this.
The problem is that this unyielding flow of evidence has failed to persuade the one person whose opinion really counts. At the moment the mBio study was released, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was writing a letter to a group of U.S. congressmen, refusing their plea for his organization to accept financial and moral responsibility for causing an epidemic that has killed 8,160 people, sickened more than 600,000, and further scuttled Haiti’s economy and postquake reconstruction. (Ignore the conciliatory headline of the latter linked article; the UN chief’s note was a flat-out rejection of the lawmakers’ request, in toto.)
Privately, I’ve talked to an endless array of UN officials past and present who openly admit that they know, and have long known, that UN troops caused the epidemic. But publicly, the world body’s official position remains complete and utter denial of the facts and total immunity from responsibility (if not gastrointestinal disease).
Perhaps the strategy is to keep holding out as stalwarts of the case get bored, and newcomers arrive, increasingly confused. (Note to the LA Times, Vice, et al: UN troops, whose mission had begun six years before the earthquake, were not sent to Haiti to provide disaster relief; the soldiers in question weren’t even posted in the quake zone. More here and here.)
If that is the case, then the studies and studies to assuredly come, showing in ever finer detail the link between Nepal, her soldiers in the UN’s charge, and the Haiti epidemic will remain news of a kind. And this click-clack-clack of articles, tweets, and posts will go on and on and …