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In this special 2-part interview, we talk with UCLA Prof. Emeritus Ralph Frerichs and journalist Jonathan Katz about the cause of the 2010 cholera epidemic in Haiti….Frerichs is a well-known epidemiologist and author of the new book Deadly River: Cholera and Cover-up in Post-Earthquake Haiti and he created an excellent companion website, here.
Katz was the AP reporter who first chronicled the earthquake in Haiti in January, 2010 and led the coverage of the cholera outbreak. He is now a regular contributor to the NY Times and wrote the powerful book: The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. Ironically, while we were talking on a very bad Skype connection, a big truck went by, but it wasn’t an earthquake this time.
Prof. Frerichs recounts the efforts of a renowned “disease detective”, French epidemiologist Dr. Renaud Piarroux, who went to Haiti to track down the source of the cholera bacteria. In short order, he zeroed in on the camp of UN peacekeeper troops from Nepal, near the Artibonite River, which quickly spread the disease after tainted sewage flowed into it. To this day, the United Nations has denied responsibility, engaged in a coverup, and blocked funding to eliminate cholera and improve sanitation in Haiti. In parts, Deadly River reads like a detective novel.
Katz, who earns high marks for his coverage from Frerichs, expands on the obstacles encountered, as experts from the US Centers for Disease Control and others took the UN position that the cholera was found in the environment in Haiti–and not introduced by outsiders. He also describes the roles of Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the cholera response.
Neither Katz nor Piarroux were engaged in a “blame game”–they were pursuing journalistic and scientific inquiries to identify the cause in order to properly inform the response.
Near the end of the conversation with Katz, we talk about his excellent recent coverage of the deportation of native Haitians from the Dominican Republic, its neighbor on the island of Hispaniola. You can read one of his reports for the NY Times here.
Prof. Frerichs also has a website honoring Dr. John Snow (not a character on Game of Thrones), the 19th century father of epidemiology.