Since the cholera outbreak began near Mirebalais, Haiti in late 2010, just ten months after a devastating earthquake, more than 650,000 Haitians have contracted the disease, which had been unknown in the country for centuries.
Survivors and family members of nearly 700,000 Haitians who have contracted cholera are suing the United Nations for billions of dollars, accusing the U.N. of covering up its role in starting the worst outbreak of the deadly disease in modern history.
“They have to help us because there are so many kids that are orphans now, that lost their mom, that lost their dads,” said plaintiff Felicia Paule, 45, who survived cholera but lost a daughter, brother and nephew to the disease. “They’re responsible, so they have to help.”
The suit will be filed in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday despite the U.N.’s longstanding immunity to all legal claims of wrongdoing.
The U.N. has cited its immunity, and has not accepted responsibility for the epidemic, even though medical experts – including members of an independent panel appointed by the U.N. — agree that the disease was probably introduced by U.N. peacekeepers. During an interview in Port-au-Prince Monday, a top U.N. official repeatedly refused to answer questions from NBC News’ Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman about whether the U.N. was to blame.
“I can’t answer that question,” said Sophie de Caen, senior country director for the United Nations Development Programme. “It’s an ongoing legal case and it’s something that needs to be discussed with the U.N. legal office in New York.”
“I think what’s important is to see what we’ve been doing since the outbreak,” she added.