Simply setting up clinics to treat Haitians with cholera is not doing enough to tackle the cholera epidemic [Reuters]

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has announced the creation of an independent panel to investigate Haiti's cholera epidemic, which some Haitians have blamed on UN peacekeepers from Nepal.

More than 2,000 people have been killed since the outbreak began in October, while 91,000 others have needed treatment for the disease. 

"There remain fair questions and legitimate concerns that demand the best answer that science can provide," Ban said.

He told reporters that, after consulting Margaret Chan, the World Health Organisation (WHO) chief, he was setting up an international panel that "will be completely independent and have full access to all UN premises and personnel".

Nepalese blamed

Rumours that a camp used by the Nepalese peacekeepers was the source of the outbreak have prompted large protests by Haitians. Last month, protesters stoned a UN patrol and shouted slogans against the UN mission.

Last week, US researchers reported that the cholera strain came from South Asia and mostly closely resembled one circulating in Bangladesh.

But the United Nations has so far said there is no scientific evidence that the Nepalese battalion is responsible and all tests on its troops have proved negative.

Ban noted that there were several theories on the origins of the cholera outbreak in Haiti and that "not all reports have reached the same conclusion".

"The investigation will help satisfy the need to know for Haitians where this disease came from," Christian Lindmeier, spokesman for the WHO, said.

"But it will not help the response on the ground, which is what all our forces are focused on."

Lindmeier said he expected the WHO to be treating cholera in Haiti for up to 18 more months and estimated that there could be 650,000 cases by mid-2012.

Cholera is caused by a bacterium that thrives in water. It is spread when infected fecal matter gets into unchlorinated water, seafood such as shellfish, or other food.

Source: Agencies