13 August 2015 - Rinderpest, or ‘’cattle plague’’, is an acute, highly contagious disease affecting several species of wild and domestic cloven-hoofed animals, notably cattle and buffalo. It killed millions of cattle over the millennia in Africa, Asia and Europe and was officially declared eradicated in 2011 at conferences of The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Following these historical celebrations the Member States of the African Union (AU) recommended that all African countries should destroy their rinderpest virus stocks or send them to a FAO-OIE approved Rinderpest Holding Facility (RHF).
Although some countries in Africa have destroyed their rinderpest-virus containing material (RVCM) and/or sent material to AU-Pan African Veterinary Vaccine Centre (AU-PANVAC), results of FAO and OIE surveys in 2011 and 2014 confirmed that at least five countries in Africa are still in possession of RVCM, including vaccines stocks, under low levels of biosecurity posing a threat of future outbreaks caused by a possible laboratory escape of the agent.
As a result, to accelerate the process of rinderpest virus destruction and sequestration, FAO organized on 5 and 6 August 2015 the Regional Meeting for Africa ‘’Maintaining Global Freedom from Rinderpest’’ in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt to review the progress of countries towards their obligations to destroy or safely relocate (sequester) their stocks of rinderpest virus.
The two-day meeting had 28 participants, including representatives from FAO, OIE, the FAO/OIE Rinderpest Joint Advisory Committee (JAC), the African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), AU-PANVAC, The Pirbright Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) as well as senior representatives, chief veterinary officers and heads of national animal health laboratories from the following nine countries: Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
On the first day, FAO and its partners illustrated the risks and possible impact of not destroying or sequestering stocks of rinderpest virus in an FAO-OIE approved RHF as well as the work being carried out by the different organizations. A breakout session of three groups of participants’ partners shared information on the current situation of rinderpest virus in the region and discussed the current threat of rinderpest in Africa and how it can be reduced. The participants re-affirmed that there are no justifiable reasons for keeping RVCM material and all are considering destroying or sequestering these virus stocks. However, some countries remained uncertain about transferring their national reserve of vaccine stocks to an RHF.
The day’s outputs were summarized by His Excellency Professor Musa Tibin Musa Adam, Federal Minister of Livestock, Fisheries and Rangelands, Sudan. Drawing not only on the presentations and their discussions but on his own experience with the disease, Professor Musa stated that it “must be an absolute priority not to keep any virulent strains of rinderpest virus for any reasons”.
On the second day, the participants discussed preparedness planning to reduce the impact of a possible outbreak, and how FAO can support the removal of RVCM from laboratories and raise public awareness among stockholders and veterinary professionals.
Another breakout session of three groups developed lists of the essential components needed in global, regional and national preparedness planning for rinderpest. The key issues raised by all three groups are the importance of suitable, accessible, regional and global emergency vaccine stockpiles and the necessary funding for their management. The development of an international rinderpest preparedness plan in the post-eradication era is also essential. With rinderpest no longer a concern to the farmers, any new programmes to raise awareness for rinderpest should be combined with other major and more relevant livestock diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease and peste des petits ruminants.
During a final plenary session, the participating countries holding RVCM committed themselves either to destroy or sequester their stocks at AU-PANVAC before 2018. Rinderpest awareness raising for livestock owners, stakeholders and for frontline animal health staff will be carried out in selected countries in Africa by FAO in 2015 and 2016, and global preparedness plans will be completed by the end of 2016.