20 November 2002 -- Recent progress in eradicating rinderpest -
one of the world's most devastating livestock diseases -
risks being reversed as the rinderpest virus threatens to break
out of its last stronghold in northeastern Kenya and southern
Somalia, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned today.
While human beings cannot catch rinderpest,
by killing entire herds that belong to small-scale dairy farmers
or tribal herders who depend utterly on cattle for their food
and livelihoods, the highly infectious disease can kill humans
just as surely -- by famine. Livelihoods based on cattle,
buffaloes and yaks are at risk as is the wildlife heritage of
Africa. In 1982-84, a rinderpest outbreak in Africa caused
losses of US$2 billion.
increasingly confident that recent national eradication
campaigns have freed three of the last remaining reservoirs of
the virus - in Sudan, Pakistan and Yemen - of the disease. But
while the virus persists in the southern part of the so-called
Somali pastoral ecosystem, not only nearby areas of Africa are
at risk from reinfection by the movement of cattle, but trade in
cattle could carry the virus across the Red Sea to the Arabian
Peninsula or, according to recent reports, even further afield
to Southeast Asia.
pastoral ecosystem is our great challenge now," says Dr
Peter Roeder, Secretary of the FAO Global Rinderpest Eradication
Programme, which is working to eradicate the disease by 2010.
"It is almost certainly the last refuge of the
rinderpest virus in the world."
"The world is very vulnerable to a devastating
resurgence of rinderpest should progress falter," warns
Dr Roeder. "The virus has repeatedly broken out of the
Somali ecosystem before and spread as far as eastern Kenya and
into Tanzania, most recently in the mid 1990s, affecting cattle
and killing wildlife. Recent reports that traders are arranging
to start exporting cattle to Southeast Asia are also most
disturbing. This raises fears that the virus may reinfect a part
of the world free from the disease since the 1950s."
"It is quite possible to move
viruses around the world with a few hundred animals. It has
happened before," he says. "Less than 50 years
ago the Rome zoo suffered a rinderpest outbreak from virus
introduced with Somali antelopes."
An NGO coalition working for the Pan-African Programme
for the Control of Epizootics in southern Somalia has provided
valuable details of the extent of the area in which the virus
has survived. FAO is now urging the international community to
provide additional resources and intensify efforts to search for
and destroy the virus where it is active, through targetted
vaccination in Kenya and Somalia.
must be eradicated by the end of 2003, followed by years of
verification and virus containment, including steps such as
destroying lab samples of the virus, for the goal of a Global
Declaration of complete freedom from rinderpest to be realized
on schedule by the end of 2010.
stakeholders seize the opportunity to work together with the
Pan-African Programme for the Control of Epizootics of the
African Union's Inter-African Bureau of Animal Resources,
and FAO, the prospects are better now than ever