Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Rinderpest’s final days:

Historic success in eradicating rinderpest from earth

Bangkok, 07 Jun 2011 -- As we prepare to recognize that rinderpest, a killer disease also known as cattle plague, has finally been eradicated from live animals in every last country and territory, we are pressed to develop post-eradication strategies which include surveillance, training and contingency planning, an FAO statement said today.

Rinderpest has been known, and dreaded, for many millennia. Wherever it has occurred, the deadly animal disease has killed countless millions of cattle, buffalo, yaks and wildlife, and posed a significant threat to rural livelihoods and food security.

"Rinderpest has caused staggering economic losses and contributed to famine and social unrest for thousands of years", FAO’s regional chief Hiroyuki Konuma said today in Bangkok.

Since 2001 no known outbreaks of the disease have occurred and surveillance indicates the rinderpest pathogen has been eliminated from its last stronghold, the Somali Ecosystem.

We are confident that the rinderpest virus really has been removed from its natural setting, the FAO statement added.

The decades-long campaign to eradicate rinderpest – also know as cattle plague – is fast approaching its goal.

What did it take to do away with the disease?
Although some countries made progress during the 20th century in dealing with rinderpest on their own territory, it continued to survive and thrive in others.

After 1960, rinderpest was combated on a broader scale through various regional campaigns using a newly developed vaccine.

However, like highly pathogenic avian influenza of the H5N1 variety, rinderpest seemed unstoppable.

"The answer was a high-level umbrella programme that weaved together national and regional activities into a concerted world-wide campaign against the disease", Mr Konuma responded.

And so in 1994 the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP) was launched. GREP was set up to act as a spider at the centre of a web – a global coordination mechanism that allowed the international community to jointly undertake rinderpest control in a systematic and comprehensive way.

"It also took massive targeted action at the local level where the virus was in circulation. FAO channeled vast amounts of technical assistance to countries to help them first extinguish outbreaks and then put in place the systems and measures needed to stay free of it. The eradication is thus a success story for all actors involved in the concerted efforts", Hiroyuki Konuma added.

FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) will jointly issue a declaration in Rome on 28 June 2011: rinderpest, one of the most devastating animal diseases known to man, is eradicated.

Rinderpest will become the first animal disease to be eradicated thanks to human efforts, and only the second disease of any kind, after smallpox in humans.

The eradication declaration required scientific verification that the disease was no longer circulating in the wild, though virus samples would remain in laboratory settings.   

Asia after rinderpest
Chief veterinary officers from 25 countries in Asia are brainstorming in Bangkok today and tomorrow to iron out plans for the next five to 10 years to ensure that the disease in not coming out of some unpredictable place.

The declaration of rinderpest eradication reflects both an achievement as well as an obligation with high responsibilities, FAO said.

There is still much that GREP needs to put in place, and its post-eradication strategy includes reviewing and ensuring sequestration of all remaining infectious virus samples and developing a contingency plan for unexpected outbreaks.
 
Laboratories and research facilities need to have good custodianship over the virus, and rinderpest research that is being done needs monitoring.

If there are future disease events that look like rinderpest, systems need to be in place at national and regional level to conduct the right investigations.

Ongoing surveillance, continued training of personnel and public awareness are fundamental, and priority will also be placed on communication by countries to FAO and OIE of any suspicious cases.

 

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Rinderpest – caused by a virus and spread by contact and contaminated materials – does not affect humans directly but it is lethal to the cattle and hoofed animals upon which they depend for food, income, and draught power. Death rates during outbreaks can approach 100 percent.

GREP was conceived as an international coordination mechanism to promote the global eradication of rinderpest and verification of freedom from rinderpest, while providing technical guidance to achieve these goals. From the outset, GREP was a time-bound programme, which was expected to lead to a declaration of global freedom from rinderpest by 2011.

Contact

Follow-up media inquiries:
Wantanee Kalpravidh (English and Thai), ECTAD Regional project coordinator – Wantanee.Kalpravidh@fao.org  
Carolyn Benigno, Animal health officer – Carolyn.Benigno@fao.org