The Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP), a flagship initiative of FAO's Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases, (EMPRES), was conceived as an international coordination mechanism to achieve global eradication of rinderpest and subsequent verification of rinderpest freedom, while providing technical guidance to member states to achieve these goals.
Starting the late 1940s, FAO (headquarters and in the field) convened a series of meetings. The objectives were to find a suitable vaccine for controlling the disease, to formulate strategies and to guide countries in disease control/eradication. Later it was recognized that regional coordination of campaigns against rinderpest would be the only realistic approach to control the disease, as isolated national actions would only lead to sporadic and unsustainable improvements.
The programme strategy consisted of widespread vaccination campaigns of cattle and buffaloes, distribution of heat-stable vaccines, and determination of post vaccine immunity. Additionally, molecular analyses related to virus characterization revealed that rinderpest virus strains were grouped into three distinct lineages: lineages I and II in Africa, and lineage III, composed of virus strains isolated from Asia and the Middle East. This process aided the development of effective, lineage-specific vaccines and improved understanding of transboundary movement of the virus and consideration of risk factors in designing interventions.
The implementation of programme activities resulted in a drastic reduction in the number of disease outbreaks. The last outbreak of rinderpest was reported in Kenya in 2001. The FAO/GREP programme, in collaboration with the OIE, has also been instrumental in the development of standards to determine the international disease status of countries as it relates to rinderpest viral activity, as well as of surveillance strategies and other animal health guidelines.
An international declaration of Global Rinderpest Freedom was made in 2011. After smallpox in humans, this is only be the second time in history that a disease has been eradicated worldwide.