Haitians blame Asian UN official for cholera outbreak

November 16, 2010 4:26:25 PM PST
Protests are breaking out in several Haitian cities, mostly centered at UN bases. While Eyewitness News was in Haiti, small protests were starting, but this week they've escalated, leaving two dead and six UN workers injured. All of this is happening because Haitians are pointing blame now for this cholera epidemic. There are updates on the radio every 30 minutes about how many people have fallen victim to cholera; at similar intervals, there are reports about the number of new patients getting admitted at cholera centers, where people are tested and treated. Some are arriving in ambulances, while others lining up in what seems to be good health to see if cholera is to blame for their stomach pains.

"Someone who was sick and vomiting, and they bring him to this center so I came here to know what is going on," Cristus Michel said through a translator. His wife fell ill and was transported to a center.

On the streets of Haiti there is a rumor that an Asian UN official is to blame for the cholera outbreak -- that their waste got into the Artibonite River and is now flowing through Haiti. It's a rumor because in Haiti rumor, myths and folklore develop a life on their own and people make decisions based on them.

"This type of cholera is from Asia, and the place where everything started, there were some UN sergeant that were from Asia in this neighborhood," translator Henoc Cajou said. "So we would like to really know, to have a good investigation to know how this came to the river."

But right now the investigation into why Haiti is seeing cholera for the first time in 45 years is being superseded by the immediate work: stemming its spread.

Along with new distrust of international aid workers, there is a renewed distrust of their own national leaders, whom many believe are publically downplaying the extent of this epidemic to appear in control of it.

Presidential elections are November 28. Nineteen people are running and the party in power hopes to stay that way.

"The government is doing the best that it can," Leogane Mayor Alexis Santos said.

With no tax base, and thus no money to speak of, the national government is feeble, and Haitians' hope rests primarily with international aid groups like the Red Cross, and Doctors without Borders who run the cholera centers.

There were 12 in operation early last week, and more are to come in Port-Au-Prince when they can find vacant land to set up on. There's a new appeal by the UN for $164 million to stop this epidemic from becoming a pandemic.

Meanwhile, hospitals and cholera centers are understaffed and in desperate need of more beds and medicine to keep up.

The wait for victims' family is frustrating and heartbreaking.

"She has someone who is here since yesterday," Cajou said about a woman waiting outside one of the cholera centers. "They don't let them go inside."

On Tuesday, a UN spokesperson called the suspicion was "politically motivated" and Nepalese troops are to blame for this outbreak "misinformation;" but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the strain is specific to south Asia.


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