The Killer Hiding in the CDC Map

by Jonathan M. Katz. Originally posted at

What caused Haiti’s cholera epidemic? The CDC museum knows but won’t say.

Last Friday, a friend doing research at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta sent me a photo of a display at the CDC’s in-house museum. She thought I’d be interested because it had to do with the cholera epidemic in Haiti, which I lived through at its beginning and have been reporting on ever since.

She was right. It blew my mind:

To understand what’s so insane about it, you need to know a little about two of the maps in that image and the CDC’s history with the epidemic.

The main part of the map, that pink-and-red mass that looks like a crab claw, is Haiti. Specifically, it is Haiti at the height of the worst cholera epidemic in recent history, an incredible scourge that by official count has killed at least 9,265 people and sickened 775,000 people in that country alone—figures that many experts believe are wild underestimates. Even though this map is just a snapshot from early January 2011, less than three months into an epidemic that has now been raging nearly six years, you’ll note that already not a single part of the country has been left untouched. (The red areas are home to 25,000 cases or more; the pale pink areas, at least 1,000.) By then, the disease had already spread into the neighboring Dominican Republic and would soon be in Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, and other parts of the region.

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Haiti by the Numbers, Five Years Later

Originally posted at CEPR

Number of people killed in the earthquake in 2010: over 217,300

Minimum number of Haitians killed by the U.N.–caused cholera epidemic: 8,774

Number of years it took after the introduction of cholera for the international community to hold a donor conference to raise funds for the cholera response: 4

Amount pledged for cholera eradication: $50 million

Amount needed: $2.2 billion

Number of years it would take to fully fund the cholera-eradication plan at current disbursement rate: 40

Number of Haitians who died from cholera through the first 8 months of 2014: 55

Number who have died since, coinciding with the start of the rainy season: 188

Number of new cholera cases in 2014, through August: 9,700

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In the News: U.N. chief served with Haiti cholera complaint, lawyers say

Ban Ki-moon photo by the World Economic Forum
Ban Ki-moon
photo by the World Economic Forum

Lawyers for victims of a cholera epidemic in Haiti said on Friday they have served United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a complaint in New York as part of a federal lawsuit seeking compensation for the outbreak, which they blame on U.N. peacekeepers.

Ban was entering an event at The Asia Society in Manhattan when he was handed the court papers by a process server, according to a statement by lawyers representing the plaintiffs.

A U.N. spokesman, however, said Ban was not served because his security did not allow him to accept the complaint.

“Ban Ki-moon was served personally. Not wishing to receive what he was given is not a defense, said Stanley Alpert, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. “He must now answer or move or be in default personally and for the U.N.,” he added.

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In the News: Stephen Lewis says United Nations must be accountable for cholera in Haiti

by Roger Annis. Originally posted on

Stephen Lewis
Stephen Lewis (photo by Gordon Griffiths, Apr. 2009)

Stephen Lewis, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations who has also served at the world agency in several other prominent postings, says the international organization must accept responsibility for the cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti in October 2010. He says he supports the legal action against the UN that was formally launched in New York City on October 9 on behalf of the victims of the epidemic.

Lewis spelled out strongly-held views in a nine-minute interview on the national, Saturday morning newsmagazine of CBC Radio One, Day 6 on October 12.

The CBC host began the interview by asking Lewis whether he supports the action. He replied, “I do. I think it is unequivocal, the responsibility of the United Nations for the cholera outbreak.”

Lewis dismissed suggestions that definitive proof of the origin of Haiti’s cholera epidemic has not been established. The disease was not present in modern Haiti before October 2010. The epidemic, he said, “has been traced definitively to the Nepalese peacekeeping force” of the UN military mission in Haiti termed MINUSTAH.

Even the UN’s own study on the matter, he said, “came within a hair’s breath of saying ‘we were responsible’, and in fact, the independent investigations by scientists show there is no question of the origin of the cholera”.

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In the News: UN Chief Tells US it Will Combat Cholera in Haiti

by Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press.

haiti_street_protest_kolera492_2UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told members of the U.S. Congress Friday that the United Nations is committed to helping Haiti overcome a cholera epidemic even though it is refusing to pay compensation to victims who blame U.N. peacekeepers for starting the outbreak.

Health officials say more than 657,000 people have fallen ill and more than 8,000 people have died from cholera since it was likely introduced to Haiti by U.N. troops from Nepal in 2010. More than 30,000 people have fallen ill and 440 have died in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

Ban was responding to a May 30 letter from U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, and 18 other Congressional “friends of the people of Haiti” who expressed concern at the U.N.’s rejection of the claims by 5,000 cholera victims and their families.

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