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How much to rid the world of rinderpest?

FAO has put a price tag on the global eradication of rinderpest, one of the world's most deadly animal diseases. Experts estimate that eradication could cost as little as US$3 million for each of the small number of infected areas left in the world, a fraction of what an outbreak of rinderpest can cost a single country. An epidemic in Nigeria in the early 1980s was responsible for losses estimated at US$2 billion.

A farmer milks buffalo in Pakistan
FAO/17183/G. Bizzarri

Rinderpest is a highly contagious and deadly disease affecting cattle and buffaloes, yaks and some wildlife species. Epidemics in areas where cattle provide milk, meat and draught power have a shattering effect on local economies and on food security.

FAO has been working to wipe out rinderpest since 1994 through its coordination of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP). The deadline set for total eradication is 2010. If GREP meets its goal, rinderpest will be the first animal disease ever to be eradicated. It would be one of the greatest achievements in veterinary science and experts have compared it to the eradication of small pox.

The worldwide drive to make rinderpest a thing of the past has left the disease in only a few isolated pockets around the world. Experts believe that it now persists in southern Sudan, southern Somalia and and parts of Pakistan. However, there are three other areas where there have been outbreaks of the disease within the past five years, and there is no certainty that it has been eliminated. These are the far eastern Russian Federation, the southern Arabian Peninsula and the Kurdish area along the border between Turkey and Iraq.

FAO has warned that failure to wipe out these few remaining pockets of the disease could result in its widespread resurgence and high costs of containment. One of the key steps countries have to take when progressing towards certified freedom from rinderpest is cessation of vaccination, which obviously leaves cattle vulnerable to cross-border infection. Because of this, it is vital to keep momentum up in the drive to meet the 2010 deadline.

FAO is calling on donors for immediate support to prevent the disease making a comeback in countries where it has been recently eliminated, and for funds to push ahead with work towards eradication in the rinderpest blackspots. A recent EMPRES Expert Consultation at FAO in Rome endorsed a plan to help countries develop national early warning systems for rinderpest - key tools in the home stretch towards a world free from rinderpest - and to intensify eradication efforts in the hot spots remaining.

8 June 1999

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© FAO, 1999