Devastating cattle plague to be purged within 18 months, announces UN agency
A deadly and highly infectious animal disease which affects cattle and other hoofed livestock is set to be only the second virus in history, behind small pox in 1980, to be eliminated from the face of the Earth, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) announced today.
Rinderpest, a devastating viral disease which is also known as cattle plague, will be officially declared eradicated within the next 18 months by the FAO along with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and other partner agencies.
Although rinderpest does not affect humans directly, it has killed countless millions of cattle, buffalo, yaks and their wild relatives, causing staggering economic losses and contributing to famine and social unrest.
It swept into sub-Saharan Africa at the end of the 19th century, killing 80 to 90 per cent of all cattle in the region, leaving the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists in tatters, causing widespread famine and leaving the region vulnerable to European colonization.
At its height in the 1920s, rinderpest extended from Scandinavia to the Cape of Good Hope and from the Atlantic shore of Africa to the Philippine archipelago, with one outbreak reported in Brazil and another in Australia.
Losses in Nigeria in the 1980s totalled $2 billion and a 1994 outbreak in northern Pakistan wiped out more than 50,000 cattle and buffalo before being brought under control with help from FAO.
In 1994, FAO established the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP) in a bid to coordinate a systematic and comprehensive effort to combat the scourge, involving animal health authorities from around the globe as well as the OIE and the African Union’s Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources among other agencies.
The virus was contained to parts of southern Somalia and adjoining areas in Ethiopia and Kenya by early 2000, with the last-ever outbreak of the disease occurring in Kenya in 2001. Today, around 170 countries and territories have succeeded in eliminating rinderpest due to GREP support.
“When you think about it, it’s quite remarkable that we are where we are today,” said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth. “This is a disease that has been an absolute scourge in agriculture for millennia.”
FAO estimates that additional production due to the eradication of rinderpest in India alone from 1965 to 1998 added up to $289 billion and Africa gained around $1 billion per year during the same period.
“Most importantly, the protection of cattle in sub-Saharan Africa, the Near East and Asia has improved both food and income streams for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pastoral people and small farmers and helped avoid famine and the loss of draught power in agricultural communities,” said Felix Njeumi of the GREP Secretariat at FAO.