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Deadly animal virus could spread to Southern Africa, UN agency warns

Deadly animal virus could spread to Southern Africa, UN agency warns

Sheep and goats are critical to herders' livelihoods
A deadly animal virus which broke out earlier this year in Tanzania could spread to Southern Africa, threatening the lives of more than 50 million sheep and goats in 15 countries, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

Known as Peste des Petits Ruminants, or small ruminants’ plague (PPR), it is considered the most destructive viral disease affecting small flocks, on par with rinderpest, a deadly cattle plague that has wreaked havoc on agriculture for millennia, resulting in famine and economic destruction.

PPR can cause death rates of up to 100 per cent in sheep and goats, and while it does not affect humans, the disease can cause enormous socio-economic losses.

FAO issued the warning today following its recent emergency mission to Tanzania, which recommended that the country initiate an emergency vaccination programme around the outbreak site in the northern half of the nation.

The mission also called on Tanzania to consider additional vaccination measures in the areas bordering Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, and FAO said these three nations immediately step up vigilance against PPR.

If it spreads into all 15 nations comprising the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the disease could devastate livelihoods and the food security of millions of small herders and agro-pastoralists.

PPR occurs in Middle Eastern countries and parts of Central and South Asia, having affected western, eastern and central parts of Africa, but so far the southern portion of the continent has been spared.

Adama Diallo, the leader of the FAO mission which recently visited Tanzania, said that the disease is easily transmitted by direct contact between live animals in shared pastures and at live animal markets.

His team recommended targeted vaccination of animals based on critical control points and routes used by pastoralists to halt further spread of PPR, adding that the first priority is to ensure that the virus stops circulating in southern Tanzania.

In the northern half of Tanzania, Mr. Diallo said sheep- and goat-keepers must not move their animals until authorities give them the green light to do so.

FAO stands ready to help countries monitor the availability of vaccine stocks for emergency vaccination campaigns, to reinforce laboratory capacity, and strengthen surveillance in the field. The agency can also help to boost awareness of the disease among field veterinarians, pastoralists and traders.