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Haiti cholera: Charge on Nepalis ‘circumstantial’

  • Expert says evidence not based on hard science


Claims by French scientists that Nepal Army peacekeepers in Haiti were the source of the cholera outbreak last year have been disputed by an expert as “too circumstantial and not based on hard facts.”

A study conducted by eight scientists led by Renaud Piarroux last year claimed that the Nepali peacekeepers brought the strain of cholera to the Caribbean nation. The epidemic subsequently killed 5,500 people after its outbreak in October last year. This month, the full text of the study appeared in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal, which is published by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. “The study fails to provide any epidemiological basis that establishes involvement of Nepali peacekeepers in the outbreak,” said Dr Dwij Raj Bhatta, the Head of the Central Department of Microbiology at the Tribhuwan University. “The study doesn’t offer evidence that justifies that the soldiers carried the strain from Nepal.” The French scientists asserted that there was exact correlation in time and places between the arrival of a Nepali battalion in Haiti and the appearances of first cases in Mille a few days later. However, Bhatta dismissed those claims as “merely circumstantial.”

“Carriers don’t become normal individuals after 24 hours of getting infected from Vibro Cholerae [cholera virus]. The infection would have been detected and fatalities appeared in the Nepali base if anyone had carried the disease,” he said in an interview with the Post.

The theory that Nepali soldiers were responsible for the epidemic can be established only if the investigation proved that Vibrio Cholerae found in Haiti were exactly the same strain as those recorded in Nepal, Bhatta said.

Bhatta, who co-authored an article on Cholera Incidence among Patients with Diarrhoea Visiting National Public Health Laboratory that was published in Japanese Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2010, argued that stools of each of the soldiers can be tested to verify whether they carried the disease to Haiti. “Because of its failure to draw substantive evidence, the French study appears like a work of fiction rather than hard science,” he said.

At least three studies, including the one by Piarroux, on the Haiti cholera have been published so far.

The study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine claimed that the strain responsible for the endemic in Haiti was “nearly identical” to strains predominant in South Asia including Bangladesh.

A four-member UN-appointed panel in May avoided apportioning direct blame or responsibility to the Nepali peacekeepers but pointed to “faecal contamination by a riverside peacekeepers’ camp” as a likely cause. Haiti’s Ministry of Health has recorded 5,506 deaths and 363,117 diagnosed cholera cases since the eruption of the deadly epidemic.

Nepal Army Spokesman Gen Ramindra Chhetri said different tests, including the ones from anal swabs of soldiers, conducted by the UN tested negative. “We don’t accept such a baseless allegation. None of the Nepali soldiers in the mission have been found infected with cholera,” he said.

Posted on: 2011-07-22 09:01