rinderpoest240_0An ambitious global effort that has brought Rinderpest, a deadly cattle plague, to the brink of extinction is ending all field activities, paving the way for official eradication of the disease. The planet is rid of rinderpest, the devastating livestock disease targeted for eradication in the mid-1990s.

“This is the first animal disease virus that’s been eradicated through a vaccination campaign,” and only the second viral disease, after smallpox in 1980, to have been wiped from the earth, says  veterinary scientists at the Institute for Animal Health in Pirbright, UK who was involved in the effort. “It is a major achievement.”

Officials at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) made the news officially on 14 October 2010 in Rome, ending a 16-year battle to eradicate Rinderpest. “The control and elimination of Rinderpest has always been a priority for the Organization since its early days in its mission to defeat hunger and strengthen global food security,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said as ministers, animal health experts and partners gathered in Rome (13-14 October 2010) for a Global Rinderpest Eradication Symposium.

The centuries-old disease, kills 80-90% of infected livestock and caused untold economics damage.  For instance, a 19th century outbreak decimated cattle populations in the Horn of Africa, while in 1980, an outbreak in Nigeria cost an estimated £2 billion.

download (4)There were criticisms that though an effective vaccine against the virus has been around since the 1950s, it was not applied in the concerted manner needed to stamp out the disease. Better field diagnostics and improvements in the vaccine that made it last longer in tough environments made possible the launch of an eradication campaign in 1994, led by the FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health in Paris. The last known outbreak occurred in Kenya in 2001, and the final remaining pockets of the disease were probably cleared from Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Ethopia and Kenya by 2007.

The rinderpest eradication campaign could serve as a model for eliminating other veterinary diseases, particularly a closely related virus affecting goats and sheep called peste de petits ruminants (PPR). PPR is spreading very rapidly across Africa and Asia, and this could be eradicated using exactly the same model as Rinderpest.

A joint FAO/OIE announcement of global Rinderpest eradication is expected in mid-2011, pending a review of final official disease status reports from a handful of countries to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). “We are confident that the World Assembly of Delegates of the OIE will officially recognize all remaining countries as free from the disease in May 2011 and thus close on that day OIE Pathway activities for Rinderpest eradication. The OIE programme was launched back in 1989 and has been extremely reliable in assessing the presence or absence of the virus in all countries worldwide. It should serve future ventures in eradicating other animal diseases,” Dr Bernard Vallat, OIE Director General declared. FAO has spearheaded a coordinated, global effort to study the pattern and nature of rinderpest, help farmers and veterinary services recognize and control the disease, develop and implement vaccination campaigns and, ultimately eraimages (11)dicate the disease within the framework of the OIE pathway. That effort has involved a broad alliance of international partners such as the OIE, IAEA and donors, most recently under the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP). GREP was launched in 1994 as a global coordination mechanism that would allow the international community to jointly undertake Rinderpest control in a systematic and comprehensive way. It was the decisive, final push in a decades-long campaign of scientific research, field surveillance and vaccination of animals in the field.

Participants of the symposium discussed lessons learned from international efforts to stamp out the disease, how to apply lessons learned to eradicate other diseases, and reviewed what remains to be done before and after a final declaration of eradication. 

(Courtesy: FAO)