East African rinderpest epidemic contained, but FAO urges countries on in the fight to eradicate the cattle plague from the world by 2010

A potentially devastating outbreak of rinderpest, the deadly cattle plague, in East Africa early in 1997 has been contained by a concerted emergency response at both national and international levels, according to FAO's EMPRES (The Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases). "It is now possible to be confident that the impending disaster has been averted", said Mark Rweyemamu, Senior Officer in FAO's Infectious Diseases Group.

Global progress towards eradication of rinderpest

Rinderpest status according to OIE pathway

Rinderpest is a highly contagious and deadly disease affecting cattle, other cloven-hoofed animals such as oxen and sheep, 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. An outbreak that raged across much of Africa from 1982 to 1984 is estimated to have cost at least US$500 million.

The Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP) coordinated by FAO aims to rid the world of the disease by 2010. Its global eradication would be a major breakthrough in the fight towards food security. Said Peter Roeder, FAO Animal Health Officer for Infectious Disease Emergencies, "Eradicating rinderpest is as important as the eradication of smallpox."

In February 1997, FAO warned that much of eastern Africa was on the brink of a disaster because of an upsurge of rinderpest in the pastoral areas of southern Kenya and northern United Republic of Tanzania. The disease was threatening to decimate wildlife in Serengeti National Park and looked set to reemerge in countries that had been free of it for many years.

A concerted technical thrust by both the FAO EMPRES Programme and the Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources of OAU (OAU/IBAR) helped to focus the attention of all the parties involved on the single objective of rapid containment and elimination of rinderpest from this newly infected zone.

A massive campaign of vaccination and surveillance was mounted in response to the emergency. The resources mobilized by the Tanzanian and Kenyan authorities were rapidly augmented by FAO and the European Community-funded Pan African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC), one of the key elements of GREP.

With the last cases of rinderpest in Tanzania reported in May of this year, there is growing confidence that the disease has once again been eliminated from the country. Southern Kenya is also now considered to be rinderpest-free, and PARC Kenya is doubling its efforts to eliminate the disease from the entire country.

GREP Expert Consultation urges countries on

An Expert Consultation on GREP, held in Rome in July, focused on the importance of the GREP Blueprint timetable for progress towards global eradication of rinderpest. The Blueprint sets a schedule for countries to follow and allows them to plot their progress towards freedom from the disease. According to the Blueprint, the first step is for a country to declare provisional freedom from rinderpest. Three years after this declaration - with no incidences of the disease - the OIE (the International Office of Epizootics) recognizes the country's disease-free status, and two years after this - again if there have been no outbreaks, and there is objective evidence from surveillance of the absence of viral activity - true freedom from rinderpest will have been achieved. This three-stage process is generally referred to as the OIE Pathway for Rinderpest Eradication (see map).

The meeting stressed the importance of all countries adhering to the schedule if the GREP goal of global eradication in just 13 years' time is to be met. Countries who have fallen behind were urged to reconfirm their positions so that the gradual but steady progress towards freedom from the disease can continue.

3 October 1997

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