Sometimes "[w]hen the international aid community descends on a vulnerable place ... good intentions make a bad situation even worse," a Boston Globe editorial states, adding that is "what happened two years ago, when United Nations peacekeepers arrived in Haiti in the wake of a devastating earthquake, bringing the deadly disease cholera with them." According to a panel of U.N. experts, poor sanitation in the peacekeepers' camp likely caused the outbreak, which has killed 7,000 people and sickened 500,000, the editorial notes. "So far, the United Nations has declined to apologize for its role, or even admit it -- perhaps because it is facing a deluge of expensive legal claims brought by the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti on behalf of the victim's families," the editorial states, noting that after a year, the "U.N. says it is still studying the claims."
"But foot-dragging is the wrong response," the Boston Globe continues, adding, "The institute's foremost demand is not monetary compensation for cholera victims, but U.N. action to stop the disease from spreading; this would involve a massive investment in clean water and sanitation infrastructure" that would help reduce cholera and other water borne diseases. Though expensive, the U.N. could generate some funding for the project by sending peacekeepers home early from Haiti, the editorial says, concluding, "The U.N. has a moral responsibility to correct its mistakes in Haiti and to institute simple public health protocols to ensure that peacekeepers who hail from cholera-infected areas never spread the disease again" (11/13).
This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.