I'm from the UN and I'm Here to Help

That human action or activity often has unintended consequences is not a new observation.

Among the activities that often have results very different from those envisaged or desired is foreign aid. There is probably not a single case of a very poor country being hauled out of poverty by such aid; there are many instances of dictators being kept in power and of civil wars virtually funded by it.

Peacekeeping forces may likewise do things other than keep the peace (though they rarely do that).

To the roll of unintended consequences must now be added the likely introduction of cholera into Haiti by Bangladeshi troops there who are part of the UN peacekeeping force there.

A paper in the New England Journal of Medicine for December 9 from Harvard Medical School shows that the strain of cholera that has caused an epidemic in Haiti probably originated in South Asia, that is to say Bangladesh. The authors arrived at this conclusion by genetic analysis.

Rather coyly, they state:

Our findings have policy implications for public health officials who are considering the deployment of vaccines or other measures for controlling cholera.

This is indeed the case, and the implications are serious. The strain of cholera, that could easily spread, is more virulent than the strain already resident in Latin America; and while the measures necessary to prevent spread are known in theory, they may be difficult to put into practice. Among other things, there is a world shortage of cholera vaccine.