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FAO-OIE united in rinderpest post-eradication programme


As FAO nears the one-year anniversary of the historic moment marking rinderpest’s official eradication, FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) are continuing to move forward in their strategy to keep rinderpest consigned forever to history books and the annals of veterinary medicine.

FAO and the OIE have formed a joint advisory committee made up of seven of the most highly qualified external advisors in veterinary virology, diagnostics, vaccinology, epidemiology, contingency planning, biothreat reduction and bio-safety/biosecurity, as well as one scientific representative each from the OIE and FAO. The Joint Advisory Committee will meet officially for the first time on 14-15 June, to formalize the workplan for the coming months. The Joint Advisory Committee will initially reconvene once every six months to manage follow-up activities under the post-eradication strategy.

One of the major priorities will be to ensure secure handling and sequestration of rinderpest virus in the post eradication era. Rinderpest virus and samples still remain in the laboratories of some 20 countries worldwide. FAO and OIE will assist with cataloging precious virus seed to deposit in high biocontainment facilities to avoid the virus from being accidentally and even intentionally released into the wider environment. Additionally Contingency plan will be developed to immediately combat the spread of disease, should the virus reappear.   

“We shouldn’t allow the word “eradicated” to lull us into a false sense of security – but nor is there a need for alarmism,” said Juan Lubroth, the FAO’s chief veterinary officer and Chief of its Animal Health Service. “We need to remain vigilant, and that means keeping some rinderpest samples safe in a lab. If rinderpest ever makes an unwelcome appearance again, vaccines can be produced from the viruses still living in those labs.”
Followed the global declaration of Rinderpest eradication, the following actions were recommended:


  • studying potential reservoir species that could pose a latent threat for reintroduction of the rinderpest virus into susceptible animal populations;
  • maintaining veterinary training programs in field surveillance and diagnostics to quickly identify and respond to a potential rinderpest outbreak
  • using the lessons learned in the long campaign to eradicate rinderpest to tackle other major animal diseases, including peste des petits ruminants, a similar viral disease affecting small ruminants (mainly sheep and goats)
  • establishing protocols for scientific study and manipulations of the rinderpest virus in a lab setting
  • contingency planning, including an emergency vaccination strategy, should rinderpest re-emerge.

FAO, through its Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme, is tasked with maintaining surveillance and monitoring for rinderpest viruses through 2020. FAO and OIE will also compile an official account of the story of rinderpest and how it was eradicated.

Before rinderpest was eliminated from circulation in the wild, the disease would wipe out entire herds of cattle, buffalo and related wild species, leaving the people dependent on them for food and income completely ruined during repeated plagues over several thousand years. “Cattle plague,” as it was commonly known, could spark hunger and famine when upwards of 90 percent of herds regularly died. Not only did people lose a main source of meat and milk, but they also lost animals used to sow and reap harvests, and get them to market.

At the 37th FAO Conference in June, 2011, the organization formally declared rinderpest eradicated, while the OIE had previously adopted the same declaration during its General Session, which had taken place just a few weeks earlier in May.