Rinderpest successfully eradicated world-wide

News
Jun 3, 2011
by WLJ

Animal health delegates meeting in Paris last week declared that rinderpest, a highly contagious disease in cattle and other animals, is eradicated, marking the first time humans have snuffed out an animal disease in the wild.

The delegates, during the annual World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) conference, unanimously adopted a resolution that officially recognizes that all 198 countries that have animals susceptible to rinderpest are free of the disease, OIE said in a press release.

Last week’s eradication declaration is only the sec- ond time humans have eliminated a disease. The first was smallpox in 1980.

Dr. Bernard Vallat, OIE’s director-general, said in the statement that the eradication declaration is a historic event. “It’s a major break- through, not only for sci- ence, but also for the coop- eration policies amongst international organizations and with the international community as a whole,” he said. He credited the world’s veterinary community, which had faced tough obstacles, given that many affected countries had scarce resources for fighting the disease.

In October 2010, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) set the stage for official eradication when it announced that animal health authorities were ending all field activities to control rinderpest. The virus doesn’t infect humans, but the ancient disease has been considered a potential biological weapon because of its devastating effect on cattle and buffalo herds.

“With the eradication of the disease in live animals, livestock production around the globe has become safer and the livelihoods of millions of livestock farmers are less at risk.”

Over many centuries, rinderpest outbreaks caused widespread famine and struck down millions of domestic and wild herds in Europe, Asia and Africa. Though the disease never gained a foothold in the Americas, Australia, or New Zealand, veterinary experts worried about rinderpest’s spread to the areas because the regions’ cattle herds are na ve to the virus.

Ann Tutwiler, FAO deputy director, said in the statement that eradicating rinderpest has been one of- FAO’s top priorities. “With the eradication of the disease in live animals, livestock production around the globe has become safer and the livelihoods of millions of livestock farmers are less at risk,” she said. “There are important lessons to be learnt when it comes to defeating other animal diseases.”

FAO is expected to adopt a similar measure in June at its conference in Rome. It will also discuss a follow-up plan for maintaining rinderpest eradication.

Several labs still keep rinderpest virus stocks for vaccine production, so as a next step, OIE and FAO are preparing recommendations on limiting use of the virus only for vaccine research, in compliance with international biosecurity measures, OIE said.

Rinderpest eradication efforts have been under way since 1989 when OIE launched a system for countries to reach the diseasefree status. The FAO’s Global Rinderpest Eradication Program has also played a vital role in eliminating the disease. — WLJ

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