Haiti, Cholera and UN Intransigence

“On, January 12, 2010, Haiti was devastated by a large earthquake, with the epicenter being 16 miles west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Ten months later, cholera cases and deaths began to appear in the rural Artibonite Department, about 62 miles north of Port-au-Prince (1). The disease had not been present in Haiti for at least half a century, so the emergence of a cholera epidemic was a surprising development.

The story of the emergence and impact of cholera in Haiti is similar to what Dr. John Snow faced in London in the mid 1800s. At that time, he observed multiple cases and deaths from cholera, hypothesized a waterborne route of transmission, and noted the important roll of both the River Thames and a local water pump. Others at the time supported the miasma theory, believing cholera was transmitted through the air. Snow’s intention, in explaining the epidemiology of the disease, was to prevent future occurrences of cholera. Ultimately, Snow’s view of the disease was proven to be right.”
(Source: UCLA Department of Epidemiology)

I’m getting obsessed with epidemiology now, I guess it’s the mix of hard science and detective story. I only found out the story behind the horrible Haiti cholera outbreak recently, the article above gives a good summation.

Of the two hypotheses, the one where it was imported by UN personnel sent to aid Haiti is now the most generally accepted. But the UN said in February that they would be refusing to issue any compensation:

The UN has taken the rare step of invoking its legal immunity to rebuff claims for compensation from 5,000 victims of the Haiti cholera epidemic, the worst outbreak of the disease in modern times and widely believed to have been caused by UN peacekeepers importing the infection into the country.

Citing a convention laid down in 1946, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, telephoned President Michel Martelly of Haiti to tell him that the UN was not willing to compensate any of the claimants. The epidemic has killed almost 8,000 people and stricken hundreds of thousands more – about one out of every 16 Haitians.
(Source: The Guardian)

I understand the UN’s stance but I totally disagree with it. They’re trying to protect themselves from any other current or future similar claims, where their actions inadvertently caused more harm than good. That’s probably what their lawyers advised them to do. But this totally runs against the spirit of the UN, all it’s meant to stand for and it brings shame upon the whole organisation to so cavalierly dismiss the suffering they caused.

If they at least admitted their culpability and then started to find ways to compensate Haiti through aid programmes, that would be something but to deny even that crumb seems monstrous.

Tragedy upon tragedy for the Haitians.

Guantánamo ~ America’s Vision Of Justice

Illustration by Matt Rota

“I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”
(Source: New York Times)

Lest we forget, this is happening *now,* under Obama’s watch:

“I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.”

11 years, no trial, no charges, no justice. Remember this when you hear Obama / the USA bleating on about liberty and terrorism and how evil North Korea is.

John Snow ~ Bacteria Detective

How often does a map change the world? In 1854, one produced by Doctor John Snow, altered it forever.

In the world of the 1850s, cholera was believed to be spread by miasma in the air, germs were not yet understood and the sudden and serious outbreak of cholera in London’s Soho was a mystery.

So Snow did something data journalists often do now: he mapped the cases. The map essentially represented each death as a bar, and you can see them in the smaller image above.

It turned out that the water for the pump was polluted by sewage from a nearby cesspit where a baby’s nappy contaminated with cholera had been dumped. But he didn’t just produce a map; it was one part of a detailed statistical analysis.
(Source: The Guardian)

There is a lot of myth to unpack about John Snow, most of it debunkable by referring to the man’s own writings. But whatever the myths, the reality is that Snow made the jump from disease being caused by bad air to something in the water. And, in the case of the Hampstead outlier, his scientific method was brilliant.

In another life, I would have the biological prowess and detective cunning to be an epidemiologist.

In this one, I’ll stick to singing songs. 🙂

Thatcher Dead, No Justice Here

“Margaret Thatcher, the most dominant British prime minister since Winston Churchill in 1940 and a global champion of the late 20th-century free market economic revival, has died.

Her spokesman, Lord Bell, said on Monday: “It is with great sadness that Mark and Carol Thatcher announced that their mother Baroness Thatcher died peacefully following a stroke this morning. A further statement will be made later.”
(Source: The Guardian)

I wish I felt happier about Thatcher’s demise.

I just feel robbed that the old racist monster never got punished for her horrendous crimes against the British working class (she did the ruling class proud).

When you read the tearful eulogies, remember, she was best friends with dictator Pinochet (who murdered and tortured tens of thousands) but supported apartheid and called Mandela a terrorist.

A vile human being. I mourn her as much as I mourn Hitler or Stalin.