Haiti mobs lynch voodoo priests over cholera fears

Image caption,
There have been calls for better public health information throughout the epidemic

Voodoo priests in Haiti are being lynched by mobs who blame them for spreading cholera, the country's government has said.

At least 45 people have been lynched in recent weeks as Haiti continues to be ravaged by a cholera epidemic.

Haiti's communications minister has made an appeal for the lynchings to end and called for a campaign to ensure people understand how cholera spreads.

More than 2,500 Haitians have died from the water-borne disease since October.

Another 121,000 people have been treated for symptoms of cholera, with at least 63,500 admitted to hospital, figures show.

The outbreak has also prompted angry protests aimed at the United Nations, whose Nepalese peacekeepers have been suspected of introducing cholera to Haiti.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has announced an investigation into the reports, although the UN initially denied the suggestion.

Blame game

Although many Haitians still practise voodoo or use aspects of voodoo in their religious worship, the latest violence erupted out of fears the traditional priests were using their powers to spread the infection.

Officials counted 40 people killed - mostly voodoo priests - killed in one region of Haiti, the AFP news agency reported, with five others killed elsewhere.

"The victims... were stoned or hacked with machetes before being burned in the streets," communications ministry official Moise Fritz Evens said.

Haiti's communications minister said she abhorred the killings and insisted that the answer was to improve general education about how cholera is transmitted.

"Voodoo practitioners have nothing to do with the cholera epidemic. We must press for an awareness campaign about the disease in the communities."

A highly prominent voodoo leader, Max Beauvoir, told Reuters news agency police were not doing enough to stop the violence.

"Since the earthquake some people have been blaming us, saying that we cast spells and did evil things which brought the earthquake as a punishment," he said.

Haiti's cholera epidemic has provoked widespread fear across the country. Anger spread when suspicions emerged that the Nepalese UN peacekeepers could have brought the disease to Haiti - where it is extremely rare - from their country, where it is endemic.

Poor sanitary conditions in much of quake-hit Haiti have contributed to the rapid spread of cholera, which causes diarrhoea and vomiting. It can kill quickly but is treated easily through rehydration and antibiotics.

The country was hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010 that devastated most of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and killed at least 250,000 people.