Rinderpest Declared Eradicated by the UN

June 28, 2011

Today the UN has declared the eradication of rinderpest, only the second disease in history to be declared completely eradicated from the planet.

Rinderpest and smallpox are dead.

Today the United Nations (UN) has declared the eradication of rinderpest—an infectious viral disease which affected mostly cattle and domestic buffalo—which is only the second disease in the history of the world to be declared completely eradicated from the face of the planet. Smallpox was the first, and now both exist only in some laboratory vials, frozen and kept away from the world, as well as the people whose lives depend on their cattle.

The last outbreak of rinderpest was reported in Kenya in 2001, and the last vaccination against the disease was administered in 2006.

Rinderpest was characterized by fever, diarrhea, lymphoid necrosis, and a high mortality rate.

The death of this disease which has plagued the cattle community only ended today but the battle to kill it once and for all has been raging for centuries. Rinderpest was at the height of it’s’ heyday in the 1920s, when the infection could be found in cattle from northern Europe to southern Africa and east to the Philippines. This disease was responsible for killing 80% to 90% of the cattle when it appeared in sub-Saharan Africa in the late 19th century; this single disease was the sole cause of severe famines in the region for years afterwards.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf said today, "While we are celebrating one of the greatest successes for FAO and its partners, I wish to remind you that this extraordinary achievement would not have been possible without the joint efforts and strong commitments of governments, the main organizations in Africa, Asia and Europe, and without the continuous support of donors and international institutions.”

In 1994, the FAO began leading the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP) in cahoots with large corporations and institutional partners, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources.

The global effort was funded by the European Union, Japan, Ireland, Italy, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN Development Programme, along with others.

"A declaration of global rinderpest eradication comes with great responsibility,” stated Juan Lubroth , the FAO’s Animal Health Service Chief.“Although the rinderpest virus has disappeared from nature, there's still much that the Global Rinderpest Eradication Program needs to put into place.”

While it is true rinderpest was not contagious to humans, it is widely believed that the measles virus evolved from rinderpest.

Further, cattle are a main source of food not only for farmers and individuals residing in developing worlds but also for developed nations, not to mention they help fuel more than one country’s economy. Lubroth stated, "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.”

“By having had a good vaccine and eradicating rinderpest,” he continued, “I think, from a food security point of view, this is a tremendous accomplishment."

Dr. Peter Cowen, who is an associate professor of epidemiology and public health at North Carolina State University, has centered his work on disease control and eradication. He said, "The eradication of rinderpest is a tremendous achievement for every veterinarian everywhere, and it shows the progress of the veterinary profession, both in developed countries but also in countries that are still growing in their capacity and still developing in their veterinary infrastructures.”

“It's not evenly spread,” continued Cowen,“but we've been very efficient about using the capacity, where it exists, to be effective in places where it doesn't. When you invest in veterinary medicine, you're really investing in the well-being of society because of the central role of animals in society."

According to Cowen, the successful eradication of rinderpest will hopefully prove how useful veterinary medicine can be when solving global problems.

“We will try to continue with the GREP program of FAO for the next five to ten years to ensure that laboratories and research facilities have good custodianship over that virus, and that the research that is being done is monitored," concluded Lubroth.