MIREBALAIS (AP) — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said that a U.N. peacekeeper was responsible for bringing cholera to Haiti but may not have known that he was doing so and efforts need to focus on stemming the outbreak.
Cholera has killed more than 7,000 people and sickened more than 526,000 others since it was introduced to Haiti in 2010, according to Haitian health officials.
Clinton, the U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti, was asked after a hospital tour if he agreed with a statement by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice about holding accountable those who brought cholera to the country. Studies have suggested that peacekeepers from Nepal likely introduced the disease to Haiti for the first time, months after the January 2010 earthquake.
“First of all, the United Nations has spent a great deal of money in Haiti,” Clinton told reporters. “Secondly, I don't know that the person who introduced cholera in Haiti, the U.N. peacekeeper, or soldier from South Asia, was aware that he was carrying the virus.”
Clinton added: “It was the proximate cause of cholera. That is, he was carrying the cholera strain. It came from his waste stream into the waterways of Haiti, into the bodies of Haitians.”
But Clinton added that what “really caused” the cholera outbreak was the country's lack of proper sanitation.
“Unless we know that he knew or that they knew — the people that sent him — that he was carrying that virus and therefore that he could cause the amount of death and misery and sickness, I think it's better to focus on fixing it,” Clinton said.
Clinton made the remarks after he toured a new public teaching hospital in the Central Plateau that was built by the Boston-based Partners in Health. PIH Co-founder Paul Farmer, a public health expert who serves as Clinton's deputy at the U.N., hosted Clinton as the two toured the hospital, a fish farm and a smaller hospital to study ways solar energy can power remote facilities.
An international panel appointed by the United Nations produced a report that blamed the outbreak on a “confluence of circumstances” that included bad sanitation.
The cholera outbreak prompted a Haitian law firm and its international partner to file a complaint against the United Nations last year on behalf of the victims. The complaint is under review by the world body's legal office.
Photo: Bill Clinton