Friday, October 3, 2014
News that the United Nations was recruiting Haitians to volunteer in countries infected by the Ebola outbreak surfaced this week on social media. Despite the country’s fragile healthcare infrastructure and ongoing battle against cholera, three institutions in Haiti are actively recruiting Haitian volunteers for Ebola countries. The United Nations (http://www.unv.org/en/how-to-volunteer/special-recruitment/applications-in-response-to-the-ebola-crisis.html), Partners in Health, led by Dr. Paul Farmer a recipient of tens of millions of dollars in aid money to Haiti (http://act.pih.org/page/content/ebola-recruitment), and USAID (http://www.usaid.gov/ebola/volunteers). The Haitian Government has moved to cut off these efforts interdicting travel to any West African nations because they have no way to screen for or contain the situation if returnees are in fact carrying the deadly virus. CARICOM and the OAS should immediately move to develop similar policies and containment strategies to avoid a regional outbreak.
In November 2010, the world learned that a cholera epidemic was spreading in Haiti. The source of the epidemic was confirmed by several scientific studies: Nepalese soldiers with the United Nations Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) brought the cholera bacteria from their country to Haiti. The epidemic has killed 8,000 Haitians and contaminated more than 800,000. Treating and eradicating the epidemic will cost the country nearly US$2 billion. Four years later, Haitians are still waiting for the UN to provide the funds to help with the fight – and perhaps an official apology from Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Neither seems to be forthcoming. Now with the Haitian rumor mill in full swing, there are growing questions about the motives behind this recruitment effort.
There is a passionate debate among Haitian citizens and the health communities in Haiti and overseas. Many theories and questions have arisen among these exchanges. It is clear that people are panicking both in-country and the Diaspora. Haitian doctors and health specialists in the Diaspora are asking some valid questions: why didn’t the UN reach out to them to help with the Haiti Cholera epidemic? Why now for Ebola?
One of the top fears is that the UN is pushing for Haitians to volunteer so they can find a scapegoat for what might already be an introduction to Ebola into Haiti by UN troops. The Secretary General presented a report in September 2014 detailing that MINUSTAH has soldiers stationed in Haiti from all of the west African countries infected with Ebola: 129 soldiers from Senegal, 30 from Nigeria, 16 from Guinea, 122 from Cote d’Ivoire, 43 from Mali and 38 from Niger. Despite repeated requests for confirmation that none of these soldiers are carrying the Ebola virus, no answers are forthcoming. Questions about troop rotations remain unanswered as well except to confirm that rotations have stopped. Haitians are further raising concerns about NGOs rotating their personnel from Ebola countries to Haiti.
If Ebola emerged in Haiti in the coming weeks it would cause additional damage to MINUSTAH and UN headquarters in New York. The cholera epidemic has already caused so much damage that the major UN players have decided to kill this mission as soon as possible and the process to downgrade the mission has already begun. Haiti cannot afford and manage this virus. Every Haitian and friend of Haiti should work together to prevent that from happening while reinforcing the country’s capabilities to face these emerging threats that viruses pose. We should be ever mindful that Haiti’s tourism industry was decimated in the 1980s Haiti by the HIV virus, which at that time was referred to as 4H (one of those Hs stood for Haitian). The rural economy was deeply affected by the slaughter of all Haitians pigs due to the porcine virus fever outbreak in the 1990s; and in early 2011 the Haitian chickens were wiped out by the bird flu. We are still paying for this outbreak as we import US$450 million chickens and eggs each year from the Dominican Republic every year. And most recently – in addition to the UN cholera outbreak – Haiti has been impacted by the chickungunya virus carried by the tiger mosquito. This new disease is killing huge numbers of Haitians and Caribbean people, particularly those with preexisting conditions. We can hardly afford another disaster. The OAS and Caricom should be working on a regional strategy to confront these emerging threats that viruses and bacteria constitute.