Livestock epidemic causing havoc in Democratic Republic of the Congo

FAO acts to stop spread of disease that has killed 75 000 goats and threatens neighbouring countries

26 June 2012, Rome - FAO is mobilizing emergency support for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to counter the rapid spread of peste des petits ruminants, a virulent livestock disease of goats and sheep.

The disease not only threatens food security in the country, but could also result in a spill-over to southern African countries that have never had the disease.

According to the national government's Directorate for Animal Production and Health, peste des petits ruminants (PPR) has infected tens of thousands of goats, and more than 75 000 have already died from the disease.

The government estimates that another one million goats and 600 000 sheep are at risk of contracting PPR, representing one-quarter of goats and two-thirds of sheep throughout the entire country. Sheep and goats are generally kept by the poorest farmers, who have the least ability to absorb the loss of one of their few assets.

"This is the worst livestock epidemic in the country in more than 10 years," said the FAO Representative in DRC, Ndiaga Gueye.

"We're seeing that in response to the threat of their animals contracting the disease, farmers are moving their animals away from infected villages to where so far there have been no disease outbreaks, which has been spreading the virus to healthy flocks of animals," said Gueye.

Rapid assessment and response

A recent emergency mission by the Crisis Management Centre - Animal Health, jointly operated by the FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) reported that the current outbreaks are particularly lethal, with an 86 percent mortality rate in goats.

FAO funding for emergency response

An FAO emergency project will provide funds for:

  • Vaccinating 500 000 sheep and goats in areas that aren't yet affected;
  • Limiting animal movements, by preventing them from moving to communal grazing areas and temporarily interrupting sale and transport of animals;
  • Raising awareness via rural radio and village-level meetings to educate farmers about steps they can take to prevent PPR;
  • Increasing active surveillance for PPR throughout the area;
  • Training of field veterinarians and para-veterinarians in the recognition of PPR and field investigation techniques.

Risk of PPR moving ever further south

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is believed to have been infected since 2008, when the provinces of Bas-Congo and Kinshasa both reported outbreaks. Neighbouring countries, like Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Kenya and Tanzania, are affected by the disease, and some areas are considered to be endemic.

The Southern Africa Development Community, including Angola, Botswana and Zambia, which are on the frontline of the disease's march southwards, have made stopping PPR a major animal health priority. Eliminating PPR is seen as key to poverty reduction in the world's most vulnerable countries.

Global united front needed

"Peste des petits ruminants is caused by a virus that is similar to measles in humans and rinderpest in cattle. When FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) declared rinderpest eradicated in mid-2011, it was the first animal disease eradicated by mankind," said Juan Lubroth, the FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer.

"Excellent vaccines exist to protect small ruminants from PPR, and these can be a key weapon in combating it. Rinderpest was eradicated only thanks to the full commitment from donors, the scientific community, development organizations, our main partners the OIE and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), member governments and farmers the world over to be rid of it. We can do the same with PPR should there be the political will," Lubroth added.

Photo: ©FAO
Excellent vaccines exist to protect sheep and goats from PPR.