Six years after the island nation of Haiti began experiencing the worst cholera outbreak in modern history, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apologized to the people of Haiti.

Cholera Victim–Pestel, January 2012–Photo by John Carroll MD
Cholera Victim–Pestel, January 2012–Photo by John Carroll MD

During an informal meeting of the General Assembly on the United Nations Thursday, Ban expressed deep regret for the loss of life and suffering caused by the country’s cholera epidemic, and outlined the way forward including immediate steps to stem the outbreak and long-term support for those affected – while also highlighting the need for adequate funding of the proposal.

“On behalf of the United Nations, I want to say very clearly: we apologize to the Haitian people. We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role,” Mr. Ban told UN Member States at a gathering of the General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York, and at which he launched his report on the matter, entitled A New approach to cholera in Haiti.

“Eliminating cholera from Haiti, and living up to our moral responsibility to those who have been most directly affected, will require the full commitment of the international community and, crucially, the resources necessary,” he added. “The United Nations should seize this opportunity to address a tragedy that also has damaged our reputation and global mission. That criticism will persist unless we do what is right for those affected. In short, UN action requires Member State action.”

LISTEN: Outbreak News Radio: Haiti Cholera Outbreak And Link To UN Peacekeepers

A two-track approach fro helping Haiti has been described:

Track one consists of a greatly intensified and better-resourced effort to respond to and reduce the incidence of cholera, through addressing Haiti’s short- and longer-term issues of water, sanitation and health systems and improved access to care and treatment.

This is expected to involve intensifying efforts to mobilize adequate funding for an increased number of rapid response teams; strengthened epidemiological surveillance; the rapid detection, reporting and treatment of cases; the combined use of cholera vaccinations with targeted water and sanitation interventions; more focused geographical targeting; improved communication and behavioral change strategies; and strengthened support to longer-term water and sanitation services.

“We would like to see improvements in people’s access to care and treatment when sick, while also addressing the longer-term issues of water, sanitation and health systems,” Mr. Ban said. “Work on Track One is [well] under way.”

Track two is described as a “community approach”. The second track of the UN response is the development of a package of material assistance and support to those Haitians most directly affected by cholera, centered on the victims and their families and communities. It is expected that it will also involve affected individuals and communities in the development of the package.

“Track Two is a concrete expression of the regret of our Organization for the suffering so many Haitians have endured. On that basis, we propose to take a community approach that would provide a package of material assistance and support to those most severely impacted by cholera,” Mr. Ban said. “The support would be based on priorities established in consultation with communities, victims and their families.”

The proposed United Nations package will cost around $400 million over the next two years.

LISTEN: Inside Haiti: A discussion with Dr. John Carroll of ‘Haitian Hearts’

Haiti has been dealing with a cholera outbreak since October 2010, some nine months after it suffered a devastating earthquake. The outbreak has affected an estimated 788,000 people and claimed the lives of more than 9,000.