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Faces behind rinderpest eradication

Chad study eyes benefits of rinderpest eradication


Joachim OtteAnimal diseases generate a variety of direct and indirect economic costs, but summing up the costs and benefits of disease control at the local, national, regional and global levels remains a challenge. In this interview, Joachim Otte, FAO Senior Livestock Policy Officer, explains how a study in Chad reflects some of the benefits countries stand to gain from the global eradication of rinderpest, which, for centuries, decimated cattle, buffalo and other animals, both domesticated and wild.

Q. What was the idea behind the Chad study on rinderpest eradication?
Farmers, herders, veterinarians, NGOs, and government ministries are among those who tell us the absence of rinderpest infection has made a great difference in people’s lives and national economies. But how do we quantify the benefits when compared to the costs of rinderpest eradication? This is the central question behind an FAO preliminary report, “An assessment of the socio-economic impacts of global rinderpest eradication: methodological issues and applications to rinderpest control in Chad.” The study represents the first attempt to develop a methodology that comprehensively estimates the costs and benefits of rinderpest eradication.

Q.  How does an animal disease such as rinderpest negatively affect an economy?

A.  In a variety of ways. First, there are the direct and clearly visible production and productivity losses caused when the disease strikes. Next, are costs associated with disease control, such as emergency vaccination and medical treatment of afflicted animals. Risk management/avoidance strategies can also be costly - such as the decision by pastoralists to hold on to older female cattle, who reproduce less frequently, but who they observed to be less vulnerable to rinderpest. Also, the broader agricultural sector, as well as the general economy, are indirectly affected.


Q.  Can you give some examples?

A. Sure. The non-availability of animal draft power can have significant costs: If planted areas decline, this means smaller harvests, higher cereal prices and – down the line – reduced purchasing power for other goods and services. Trade barriers are another example. These are sometimes adopted by governments to keep their countries free from disease, but they come at a cost, too, since meat and other animal products will become more expensive. And other costs, though hard to quantify, can result when rinderpest affects wildlife. In Kenya, the loss of wildlife threatened that country’s biodiversity and, in turn, its tourism industry.


Q.  So the eradication of rinderpest simply eliminates these losses?
A.  Yes, but the methodology we are developing in our Chad case study does much more than just change minuses into pluses. It allows us to assess the approximate magnitude of just how “cost-effective” a particular disease mitigation (or set of mitigations) has been in a particular country. Additionally, it can also indicate the impacts and benefits associated with different groups of stakeholders – producers, rural and/or urban households, different economic sectors, the nation as a whole and finally, when fully developed, the region (in this case, West Africa).

Q.  What exactly did this study do?
A.  We looked at the control and eventual eradication of rinderpest in Chad between 1963, when international efforts to eradicate rinderpest from sub-Saharan Africa began, and 2002. We concluded that for every dollar spent on rinderpest control and eradication, the country’s cattle industry enjoyed at least $16 dollars in benefits. By benefits we mean more animals, more meat, more milk, and so on. More broadly, our economy-wide analysis shows that in 2000, Chad’s GDP would have been more than three percent lower without eradication. At the household level, the incomes of rural households, those most vulnerable to outbreaks of rinderpest, would have been 8.5 percent lower without the eradication of this disease.

Q.  In other words, eradication means more than simply the fact that animals will no longer get sick and die?
A.  Yes, much more. Fewer animals die but, additionally, with rinderpest eliminated, development of the cattle sector, which is particularly important in countries where agriculture still plays a dominant role, gets an extra push. In Nigeria for example, abandoning the risk mitigation strategy involving the retention of older female animals resulted in a more productive herd structure. Investment in cattle increased, leading to further value generation down the line. Countries that were free of the disease but shared borders with an infected neighbour no longer need to vaccinate animals in a buffer zone along that border, and so on.

Q.  So, overall, what will be the significance of this methodology?
A.  Let’s say that it is a first step in developing and applying a comprehensive framework for conducting cost-benefit analysesof an animal health intervention. It will provide guidance on how to structure data collection efforts for future economic assessments of other disease-control campaigns.

Q. Can the same methodology be applied to other animal diseases?
A.  In principle, yes, and this was our goal.  But it should be remembered that measuring control costs and impacts associated with rinderpest is somewhat more straightforward in comparison to other animal diseases. Unlike foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), for example, rinderpest could effectively be controlled with a single injection of a vaccine that confers life-long immunity. For FMD, vaccination must be strain specific and repeated frequently, while for African Swine fever no vaccine currently exists.