SAINT-MARC, HAITI-- OCTOBER 25, 2010-Evca Dormevil, 5, of Grande-Saline Douin rests on a cot with tear streaked cheeks as she receives fluids through an I.V. in a make-shift ward in the courtyard at St. Nicholas Hospital in Saint-Marc, Haiti. Photo By Leah Millis
In a last minute State Department press briefing today, Mark Ward expressed confidence in the Haitian government's anti-cholera efforts even though the number of cases and deaths continue to rise. Ward is Acting Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). "Let me begin by expressing a lot of confidence in the efforts that the Government of Haiti has undertaken in treating the disease from what we've seen so far," Ward said.
Ward's statement flies in the face of common sense and reason given the Haitian government's dismal response to the January 2010 earthquake which has left parts of the country in ruins and at least 1.3 million displaced in festering cesspools of tarp cities. Men, women, and children continue to live in filthy, life-threatening conditions--conditions which have provided a fertile breeding ground for the cholera epidemic which has now claimed over 1,000 lives and 16,000 victims in seven of the country's ten regions, or departments.
Violent demonstrations are continuing this week over the lack of government response to Haitians' increasingly dire situation and continued denials by the United Nations that the source of the outbreak is a UN camp near Mirebalais on the Artibonite River. The Artibonite region is the epicenter of the cholera epidemic.
Officials in today's State Department briefing contradicted themselves by first saying it was unexpected that cholera would break out in Artibonite--they expected diarrheal disease, but certainly not cholera, in Port-au-Prince. "The disease fooled us."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control liaison to USAID on the cholera outbreak, Menoj Menon, said Haiti was especially vulnerable because it was cholera-free for decades and the population lacked any natural immunity.
Responding to a question about contagion origins in the Nepalese camp Menon said, "We can't rule in or rule out either scenario. The CDC, in conjunction with the laboratory in Haiti, are conducting a variety of laboratory tests to further characterize the strain of cholera. But again, with global trade, with global movement of the population, it - we'll never know how the strain arrived in Haiti."
One has to wonder of Menon has read the latest CDC bulletin.
In its latest report, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that "one event" caused the outbreak in rice farmers living in the Artibonite River Valley, and immediately downstream from the suspected source at the Nepalese camp. There was an outbreak of the same strain of cholera in Nepal immediately prior to the deployment of the Nepalese soldiers.
As of November 13, data indicated that a single strain caused illness among the 14 persons from Artibonite Department. If these isolates are representative of those currently circulating in Haiti, the findings suggest that V. cholerae was likely introduced into Haiti in one event. V. cholerae strains that are indistinguishable from the outbreak strain by all methods used have previously been found in countries in South Asia and elsewhere. PFGE analysis on isolates obtained from cholera patients who became ill in other departments in Haiti is ongoing.
In October, the investigative team used a standardized questionnaire to interview 27 patients in the five hospitals in Artibonite Department. "Most of these patients resided or worked in rice fields in communities located alongside a stretch of the Artibonite River approximately 20 miles long," the report says.
The UN continues to deny culpability and the State Department is couching its diplomatic words very carefully.
In spite of these denials, a Swiss diplomat and a French epidemiologist are publicly implicating the Nepalese UN camp.
Nigel Fisher, humanitarian director for the UN, told reporters that a French epidemiologist is implicating the Nepalese camp. "Yesterday I learned there was a French epidemiologist who, with a different methodology, is pointing more clearly at the Nepalese," Fisher said in a CBC interview.
Fischer said he couldn't confirm the information, but said a group of UN officials will meet with the French epidemiologist to discuss his methodology and finding.
In another widely reported development, Claes Hammar, the Swedish ambassador to the Caribbean told the Swedish press that the contagion came from Nepalese camp, but refuses to name the US official allegedly who told him this.
"I consider my source to be a reliable one. It is a US official, but I cannot say who", he said on Wednesday by phone to Helsingin Sanomat. Hammar said that the tests taken by the US official were at a camp of "Nepalese UN workers."
Meanwhile, The UN in Haiti (MINUSTAH) continues to refuse to release "independent tests" it conducted in the Dominican Republic that MINUSTAH says show no contagion. This is strange. It is similar to the accused criminal who says he has an alibi, but refuses to produce it. A release of the test results could exonerate--or condemn.
The Haitian people cannot hold out much longer for the truth, and what is even more frustrating is that media is still helping the United Nations to blame the Haitians for their own misery. We have seen this before. The US has been strangely absent from coverage of the beginnings of the cholera epidemic. The AP was there, as was the BBC and, of course, AlJazeera. Now that the numbers are getting higher, world and US media are suddenly interested.
Instead of a vigorous search for the reasons why this epidemic is not being contained in a country that is a two-hour flight from the US, or putting pressure on the UN to tell the truth, media is resorting to heinous images of disaster porn to gin up readership and ratings.
There are several images of a naked Haitian woman, lying defenseless, abandoned and graphically exposed on a street. The photographer should be censured and banned from Haiti. This is not journalism. It is pornography. This woman is someone's daughter, wife, mother, or sister. Where is our humanity?
This photographer and media that promotes this are engaged in societal abuse.
Perhaps this is not surprising given the climate of complete disregard for truth that has infested coverage of this epidemic as well as our propensity to treat Haitians as children, unable to handle the truth. Imagine if this happened in the United Sates. Would we tolerate this kind of denial and abuse?
Now that the expected social unrest, fueled by fear and anger, is beginning to materialize, the United Nations is in full denial mode and blaming riots in the Cap Haitien area on "political motivations."
Denials continue, in spite of a Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN report) which makes a convincing argument for Haiti's case against the UN for importing the cholera epidemic, as well as an
AP report that solidifies the argument.
The UN has circled the wagons.
As surely as a rapist blames its victim, the United Nations has perfected the art of plausible denial. And in case the reader is not aware, the UN has been complicit in rape and murder in Haiti, also.
The UN blaming "civil unrest" that is "politically motivated" is as recent as 2006 when the mis-named United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) denied 30 people were killed by UN forces in Cite Soleil.
In response to the criticism by human rights organizations that denounced those killings, MINUSTAH justified its actions by claiming that it was combating gangs in Cite Soleil. However, the images shot by H.I.P. show that United Nations troops shot unarmed civilians from helicopters. Inter Press Service, which covered the conditions in the area immediately following the attack, reported finding high-caliber bullet holes in many homes.
Bullet ridden buildings Cite Soleil Photo By Mac McKinney
You can still see the bullet riddled homes and buildings.
And then there are the rapes that the UN denied in 2006, but which were documented by human rights watch groups and others.
Cholera continues to spread in spite of expressed US "confidence" in the Haitian government's ability to contain it.
Pleas from heath experts say there is a need for15 nurses for every doctor. Nurses, nurses' aides and cleaners are all needed urgently. In the department of Artibonite, departmental health authorities have stated the need for 260 "community health workers" who can administer oral rehydration salts and help with cleaning and disinfecting areas where patients in communities are being cared for. (Source: OSCHA November 16 Cholera Situation Report #18)
Reading the statistics now from a safe base here in south Florida, it is sobering to see the cholera death rate in Haiti holding firm at a little over 6 percent. The latest numbers from the Le Ministère de la Santé Publique et de la Population (MSPP), that are outdated, indicate 16,799 cases and 1,034 deaths. This is unacceptable, given that the worldwide death rate from cholera stands at 3 percent.
Update: Tonight, in a transcript of a noon briefing, the United Nations' Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, opened the door to the possibility that cholera originated from the MINUSTAH Nepalese camp.
It should be noted, however, that these test results referred to above do not constitute conclusive evidence that MINUSTAH was not the source of the current outbreak.