UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has pledged an independent investigation of the cholera epidemic in Haiti, amid continuing claims that peacekeeping troops were the source of the current outbreak.
With the death toll from the epidemic now standing at at least 2,400, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has called for more vaccination and the creation of an international vaccine stockpile to deal with future outbreaks.
Since cholera appeared in the wake of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January, rumours have appeared claiming that Nepalese UN troops were its source.
Evidence to date has been inconclusive. “But there remain fair questions and legitimate concerns that demand the best answer that science can provide,” said Ban last week as he appealed for more funding for those dealing with the crisis.
An independent scientific panel will be given access to all UN premises and personnel he pledged. “We want to make the best effort to get to the bottom of this and find answers that the people of Haiti deserve,” he said.
How to deal with the current outbreak has also incited debate, with some pushing for vaccination and others arguing that this could take resources away from actually treating the sick (see: Would cholera vaccines have helped in Haiti?).
Last week, an expert meeting convened by PAHO threw its weight behind vaccination, calling for current pilot efforts in Haiti to be expanded.
“In the short term, we should make use of the limited amount of vaccine we have,” said Roger Glass, associate director for international research at the National Institutes of Health (press release). “In the long term, we need to make sure we have adequate supplies to respond to cholera in Haiti, in the Americas, and around the world.”
While 100,000 doses of cholera vaccine are currently available and up to 1 million could be available by the second half of next year, there are over 10 million people in Haiti and each would need two doses of the vaccine. To this end the meeting also suggested an international stockpile of cholera vaccine could be established to make sure that large amounts are available in future when needed.