Celebration honours success against cattle disease

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf lauds international cooperation

25 June 2011, Rome - Flanked by Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Ministers and other international dignitaries, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today unveiled a commemorative plaque to celebrate global freedom from rinderpest, or cattle plague, one of history's deadliest animal diseases and a long-time threat to human livelihoods and food security.

The global eradication of rinderpest, achieved under an FAO coordinated programme, makes the virus the first animal disease to be eliminated from its natural setting thanks to human efforts and international cooperation, and only the second disease of any kind to be eradicated, after smallpox in humans.

"Over the years, I have frequently said that the world has the means necessary to eliminate hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty," said Diouf. "The total eradication of rinderpest — a disease that decimated cattle, buffalo and many other animal species, both domestic and wild — is proof of this today."

This is a major success for humanity. For over a thousand years the plague spread over the world's continents, annihilating millions of animals and leading to precarious living and food security conditions for the people who depended on them.

A commemorative plaque at FAO Headquarters cites professionals, technical and financial institutions and member states for their exemplary work and collaboration in the eradication effort.

Those attending the celebration included President Idriss Déby Itno of Chad, President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo, Vice-President Aja Dr. Isatou Njie of The Gambia and other high-level dignitaries from FAO Member countries and organizations, the Director-General of the World Organisation for Animal Health, Bernard Vallat, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Nobel laureate and veterinarian Peter Doherty. FAO Goodwill Ambassadors Pierre Cardin, Mory Kanté and Anggun also took part in the commemorative event.

The celebration took place on the opening day of the 37th biennial FAO Conference, the meeting of the highest governing body of the Organization. The Conference is expected to adopt a resolution formally recognizing global freedom from rinderpest on 28 June.

Since 1994, FAO has spearheaded the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme, in close coordination with the World Organisation for Animal Health, the International Atomic Energy Agency and other partners, governments, non-governmental organizations, regional institutions like the Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources, and donors like the European Union.

On 27 June, chief veterinary officers and other experts from around the world will meet at FAO Headquarters to discuss measures to safeguard remaining samples of virus and vaccines in laboratories, and to assess risks and response requirements in the fight against other high impact diseases.

Photo: ©FAO/J. Thompson
Rinderpest plagued farmers and livestock keepers in Africa, Asia and Europe for millennia.