Way clear for global rinderpest eradication

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Global eradication of rinderpest - one of the world's most devastating livestock diseases - is now feasible by 2010.

After eight years of work, an expert consultation on the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme, held at FAO Headquarters in May began mapping out the final steps towards consigning the disease to the history books. The meeting was held by FAO's Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES).

"Remarkable progress has been made in the last year," said FAO's Dr Peter Roeder, the Programme's Secretary. "We can now see that eradication by our 2010 deadline is feasible."

The Programme's immediate task is to clean out rinderpest from the few remaining, suspect reservoirs of infection by the end of 2001. These reservoirs are: southeastern Sudan, where the virus was last seen in 1998; southern Somalia, where the current situation makes effective surveillance impossible, but rinderpest experts in Africa believe it might still harbour rinderpest; Yemen, where the virus was last confirmed in 1995 and there is no compelling reason to believe that rinderpest is present; Pakistan, where the virus has been steadily decreasing and if it is still occurring, it is only at a very low level; and northern Iraq, where investigations suggest that it was eliminated in 1996.

One more area of concern exists outside these areas. There are suspicions that the disease is still present somewhere between northern China, eastern Russia and Mongolia, but there is no definite evidence of this.

The work in all the areas defined as reservoirs of the virus involves intensive surveillance to prove freedom from rinderpest, and elimination of infection should it be found.

The expert consultation has recommended that all countries, with the possible exceptions of southeastern Sudan and southern Somalia, should plan immediate cessation of routine rinderpest vaccination and concentrate on surveillance, searching for evidence of disease or infection. Should such surveillance reveal a pocket of rinderpest, immediate steps should be taken to eliminate it using intensive vaccination of all cattle and domestic buffaloes within infected and adjacent high-risk zones.

Following this cleaning up of the remaining pockets of infection, the next major milestone is complete cessation of vaccination against rinderpest by the end of 2002. "The success of next year's surveillance work will be crucial in persuading countries to cease vaccination," said Dr Roeder. "At the same time, we will also be fleshing out a detailed action plan based on the milestones agreed at the meeting."

Following cessation of vaccination, the steps mapped out by the expert consultation, were as follows:

  • end of 2003 - declaration of worldwide provisional freedom from rinderpest
  • end of 2006 - freedom from disease for whole world established
  • end of 2008 - freedom from sub-clinical infection established
  • end of 2010 - Global Declaration of complete freedom from rinderpest

The expert consultation noted that the 68th General Session of the World Organisation of Animal Health (OIE) had established a baseline list of 86 countries as free from rinderpest infection. In addition to these, 27 countries have already declared provisional freedom from the disease.

The meeting also developed an innovative approach to regionalize activities during the final push towards freedom from rinderpest. Until now, countries have been obliged to individually follow the OIE pathway marking the steps towards verified freedom from disease. Regionalization aims to accelerate progress and take the burden off individual countries. It also allows for coordinated surveillance of epidemiological eco-systems, even across international borders.

Rinderpest has always been the most dreaded bovine plague - a highly infectious viral disease that can destroy entire populations of cattle and buffalo.

In regions that depend on cattle for meat, milk products and draft power, rinderpest has caused widespread famine and inflicted serious economic and political damage. An epidemic in the 1890s wiped out 80-90 percent of all the cattle in sub-Saharan Africa. More recently, another rinderpest outbreak that raged across much of Africa in 1982-84 is estimated to have cost at least US$500 million.

20 June 2000

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