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Peace and Pestilence

Lessons on Peacekeeping and Public Health from the Haitian Cholera Epidemic

Fifteen-year-old cholera patient Jonas Florvil lies on a cot in a nearly empty ward at a Samaritan's Purse cholera treatment center in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, January 8, 2011.  Allison Shelley / Reuters

For centuries, war and disease have gone hand in hand. Smallpox served as vanguard for the Spanish forces in their conquest of the Americas, and yellow fever and typhus finally turned the tide—in Haiti and Russia, respectively—against the strategic genius of Napoleon. In fact, it wasn’t until World War I that a major conflict saw more soldiers perish on the battlefield than from disease—yet those soldiers’ comrades played a key role in spreading the 1918 flu pandemic, which claimed far more lives worldwide than the war.

Not long after the United Nations was formed in the aftermath of World War II, the world came to the novel conclusion that soldiers could be used not to wage war but to promote peace, resulting in the creation of United Nations Peacekeeping. Although peacekeeping has changed the role of the soldier, however, it has not severed the connection between soldiers

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