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Experts adopt blueprint to eradicate cattle plague

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Rinderpest, a lethal and highly infectious livestock disease that has ravaged widespread areas of Asia, the Near East and Africa for centuries, could be defeated once and for all within 15 years. Experts capped a week of meetings at FAO Headquarters from 22 to 26 July by adopting a technical blueprint for global eradication of the disease by the year 2010.

A three-day technical consultation of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP), confirmed that control efforts had succeeded in clearing the disease from most of India and several countries in Africa, including the Gambia, Togo, Guinea and Egypt.

Rinderpest has now been confined to a few "defined foci", including Pakistan, Iraq (on the borders with Iran), Yemen and the Horn of Africa, especially southern Sudan, some isolated pockets in northeast Ethiopia and suspected parts in the Kenya-Somali junction. The pattern of some recent outbreaks indicates that these geographically dispersed pockets of contagion are linked by trade in livestock, underlining the need for a coordinated international control effort.

Intensive efforts will now be launched to eradicate the disease from these pockets. Key weapons in the control campaign include mass vaccination and enhancement of diagnosis and surveillance capabilities.

Deploying these tools effectively will require international cooperation and coordination to monitor the disease and mobilize national and regional eradication programmes quickly when rinderpest spreads.

"Any outbreak of rinderpest outside of its defined foci has to be taken as an international emergency, no different from a natural calamity," explained Dr Mark Rweyemamu, senior officer for infectious diseases in FAO's Animal Production and Health Division.

The GREP meeting was followed by an expert consultation on the livestock component of FAO's emergency programme on plant and animal pests and diseases (EMPRES). The consultation reaffirmed eradication of rinderpest as the main focus of livestock activities.

If the blueprint for a "world without rinderpest" by the year 2010 can be realized, it would mark the first such elimination of a major livestock disease. This would represent "a landmark achievement for mankind", the consultation concluded.

The experts pointed out that rinderpest and other livestock diseases can spread rapidly, causing critical food shortages, and recommended that steps be taken to inform the upcoming World Food Summit about the importance of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme.

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