UN declares deadly cattle plague eradicated after global campaign

A farmer tends to his herd. Rinderpest eradication means a brighter future for farmers and pastoralists.

28 June 2011 – The United Nations today declared that the world has completely eradicated a cattle disease that has killed millions of bovines for millennia. It is the first animal disease to be officially declared eradicated – and only the second disease ever, after smallpox.

A resolution approved by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at its meeting in Rome today stated that the world was free of rinderpest, or cattle plague, but also “called on the world community to follow up by ensuring that samples of rinderpest viruses and vaccines be kept under safe laboratory conditions and that rigorous standards for disease surveillance and reporting be applied.”

The announcement followed verification last month by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) that the disease was no longer circulating in its natural habitat. The last outbreak of rinderpest was registered in wild buffalo in Kenya in 2001, and the last vaccination took place in 2006.

“The declaration is the final step in a decades-long global campaign implemented by FAO, in close coordination with the OIE, and other partners to eradicate rinderpest,” the agency said.

The highly infectious disease has killed many millions of cattle, buffalo and other animals, and caused hunger and economic hardship, primarily in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Since 1994, FAO has spearheaded the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP) with the OIE, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other institutional partners, governments, regional organizations such as the Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources, and communities worldwide.

The agency said the international cooperation was funded by the European Union, Japan, Ireland, Italy, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) among others.

The programme’s success had “demonstrated the importance of political and financial support for veterinary services, community outreach, regional cooperation, and research,” FAO said.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said: “We must also focus our attention on measures to be taken to ensure that this result is sustainable and benefits future generations. To do this, a post-eradication strategy should be put in place to prevent any recurrence of the disease.”

Rinderpest is a highly contagious viral disease affecting several species of wild and domestic split-hoofed animals, notably cattle and buffalo. Many species, including sheep and goats, can show milder clinical signs of the disease when infected, but the mortality rate can reach up to 100 per cent in highly susceptible cattle or buffalo herds.

An outbreak of rinderpest in imported animals in Belgium in 1920 was the impetus for international cooperation in controlling animal diseases, and a key factor leading to the establishment of the OIE in 1924.

The global eradication of smallpox was certified by a commission of eminent scientists in December 1979 and subsequently endorsed by the World Health Organization in 1980.

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UN lauds international cooperation in eradicating deadly cattle plague

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