June 28, 2011


FAO declares eradication of cattle plague



The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has declared the rinderpest viral disease eradicated, after several years of intensive worldwide surveillance since the last known case in Kenya in 2001.


"By having had a good vaccine and eradicating rinderpest, I think, from a food security point of view, this is a tremendous accomplishment," said the FAO's Animal Health Service Chief, Juan Lubroth.


Rinderpest becomes the second disease in all of human history to be successfully eradicated, after smallpox.


The FAO spearheaded a global eradication programme beginning in 1994, and last year, Kenya celebrated its certification as rinderpest-free.


Historians say the disease played a role in the fall of Rome, the French Revolution, and paved the way for the colonization of Africa. Where rinderpest struck, cattle death was swift and often total.


"If you could imagine that you are an owner of 100 animals - a milking herd - by the end of the week, you would have zero, it would go so fast through the population," Lubroth said.


At its widest extent, in the 1920s, rinderpest stretched from northern Europe to southern Africa and east to the Philippines.

Rinderpest was finally tamed by a vaccine first developed in the 1960s, and large-scale, coordinated village-by-village vaccination campaigns reduced the disease to a few pockets.

"There is no possible comparison between rinderpest and other diseases," said FAO Assistant Director-General Modibo Traoré. "Of course, when cattle die, it is about meat, it is about milk, it is about other animal production."

When rinderpest first hit sub-Saharan Africa in the late 19th century, it killed 80-90% of the region's cattle, and triggered severe famines. 


Nomadic cattle herders in East Africa presented a particular challenge for the eradication of the disease.

"Animals move from one region to another, and very often across national boundaries," said the Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources' Henry Wamwayi. "And therefore, transnational animal diseases can only be controlled if there is cooperation among countries."

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