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Press Release 00/36

UN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION ANNOUNCES FINAL STEPS TO ERADICATE DEADLY ANIMAL DISEASE; WORLD EXPECTED TO BE RINDERPEST FREE BY 2010


Rome, 20 June 2000 --Rinderpest, one of the world's most devastating livestock diseases, is expected to be eradicated worldwide by 2010, officials of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced today. Rinderpest is a highly infectious viral disease that attacks bovine animals often destroying entire populations of cattle and buffalo.

Last month FAO's Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP) began mapping the final steps designed to consign the disease to the history books. This follows an expert consultation held under the auspices of FAO's Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES), where veterinarians and other technical experts agreed that eradicating rinderpest was now possible. According to FAO's Dr. Peter Roeder, "We can now see that eradication by our 2010 deadline is feasible. GREP's immediate task is to clean out rinderpest from the last few remaining, suspect reservoirs of infection by the end of 2001."

The remaining reservoirs of rinderpest are located in southeastern Sudan, where the virus was last seen in 1998, southern Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq. In Somalia, civil strife makes effective surveillance impossible, but rinderpest experts in Africa believe the Horn of Africa country may still harbor the disease. In Yemen, where the virus was last confirmed in 1995, there is no compelling reason to believe that rinderpest is still present. In Pakistan, outbreaks of the disease have been steadily decreasing and experts say it may even be extinct now. Investigations suggest that rinderpest may have been eliminated in northern Iraq in 1996.

There is one more area of concern beyond these areas, according to experts. The disease is suspected to be present somewhere between northern China, eastern Russia and Mongolia. However, there is no hard evidence. The work in rinderpest reservoir areas involves intensive surveillance to prove freedom from the disease. FAO is recommending that all countries, with the possible exception of the southeastern Sudan and southern Somalia, cease routine rinderpest vaccination at once and concentrate on surveillance, searching for evidence of disease, or infection. Should such surveillance reveal a pocket of rinderpest, immediate steps should be taken to eliminate it by vaccinating all cattle and domestic buffaloes within the epidemiological high-risk zone.

Once the remaining pockets of infection have been cleaned up, the next major milestone will be worldwide cessation of vaccination against rinderpest by the end of 2002. "The success of next year's surveillance work will be crucial in persuading countries to cease vaccination," said Dr Roeder."

Cessation of vaccination is a critical stage, say experts. Apart from saving the considerable costs of vaccination, it allows for unequivocal verification that the rinderpest virus has been eliminated from the animal population.

Following an end to vaccinations, the FAO expert consultation listed the following steps on the road to complete global freedom from rinderpest. In 2003, the world will be declared provisionally free from rinderpest followed by a 5-year global verification process that will be completed by 2008. During this process, any remaining rinderpest virus will be eliminated, or stored in special laboratories under strict supervision. Following this multi-step process, experts believe the world can be declared completely free from rinderpest by 2010.

FAO is leading the effort to eradicate rinderpest with support from a number of partners, including the European Union, the Organization of African Unity, the Government of India and several other bilateral and multilateral donors (see editors note below for full participant list).

Over the years, in regions that depend on cattle for meat, milk products and draft power, rinderpest has caused widespread famine and inflicted serious economic and political damage. An epidemic in the 1890s wiped out 80-90 percent of all the cattle in sub-Saharan Africa.

Note to Editors

Grep donors are:

  • The European Union
  • USAgency for International Development
  • UK Department for International Development
  • French Cooperation
  • International Atomic Energy Agency
  • Swedish International Development Agency
  • United Nations Development Fund
  • The Government of Japan

Other GREP participants are:

  • Organization of African Unity (OAU)
  • Office International des Epizooties (OIE)
  • Government of India
  • Animal Production and Health Commission for Asia (APHCA)

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For more on the Global Rinderpest Eradication Program, check the FAO Web site at this URL:  http://www.fao.org/ag/aga/agah/empres/GREP/GREP.htm

For further information, or for someone to interview, contact:
John Riddle
Telephone: (39) 06 5705-3259
E-mail: john.riddle@fao.org


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