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The Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon wears a Refugee Olympic Team hat as a show of support during a photo call at United Nations Headquarters in the Manhattan borough New York, U.S., August 3, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

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By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon believes the world body has a moral responsibility to help Haiti's cholera victims and their families and is working to develop "material assistance" for them, his spokesman said on Friday.

On Thursday, the U.N. made its first acknowledgment of its possible involvement in the introduction of cholera to Haiti six years ago that U.N. figures showed has killed more than 9,000 Haitians and infected 770,000.

A 2011 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, where cholera is endemic, were the likely cause of the outbreak of the water-borne disease. The peacekeepers on mission in Haiti were stationed near a river and discharged raw sewage.

"The United Nations has a moral responsibility to the victims of the cholera epidemic and for supporting Haiti in overcoming the epidemic and building sound water, sanitation and health systems," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters on Friday.

Cholera, which had not been documented in Haiti in almost 100 years before the 2010 outbreak, is an infection that causes severe diarrhea that can lead to dehydration and death, and is caused by poor sanitation.

"The Secretary-General deeply regrets the terrible suffering the people of Haiti have endured as a result of the cholera epidemic," Haq said.

Ban had been seeking $2.2 billion for a 10-year cholera-elimination campaign that he started in December 2012 with the presidents of Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic. But less than a quarter has been raised, U.N. data showed.

Ban is now working to develop a new response that will be presented within two months, Haq said.

He described it as "a package that would provide material assistance and support to those Haitians most directly affected by cholera."

The United Nations does not legally accept responsibility for the outbreak. An independent panel appointed by Ban to study the epidemic issued a 2011 report that did not determine conclusively how the cholera was introduced to Haiti.

A U.S. appeals court on Thursday upheld the world body's immunity from a damage claim filed by rights lawyers on behalf of those killed or sickened by cholera.

Haq told reporters earlier on Thursday that over the past year the United Nations "has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera."

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

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