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FAO declares victory over rinderpest

afrol News, 30 November - The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) jointly with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and other partners will officially declare one of the most devastating animal diseases known to man, rinderpest, as eradicated.

It will be the first time in history that humankind has succeeded in killing off an animal disease and only the second time a disease has been consigned to the dustbin as a result of human efforts. The first was smallpox, in 1980.

The victory comes after an intense decades-long campaign - spearheaded by FAO and involving a broad alliance of partners - to isolate rinderpest, also known as cattle plague, in its last few remaining pockets and then wipe it out, once and for all.

Rinderpest does not affect humans directly but it is lethal to the cattle and hoofed animals upon which they depend for food, income, and draught power. Death rates during outbreaks can approach 100 percent.

Caused by a virus and spread by contact and contaminated materials, rinderpest has destroyed countless millions of cattle, buffalo, yaks and their wild relatives, causing staggering economic losses and contributing to famine and social unrest for thousands of years.

Carried into Europe from Asia by invading tribes, outbreaks of rinderpest hit the Roman Empire in AD 376-386 and are suspected as having played a role in its decline and collapse.

Recurring epidemics in France during the 1700s provoked famine and drops in agricultural productivity, feeding into the unrest that culminated in the revolution of 1789.

When rinderpest was introduced into sub-Saharan Africa at the end of the 19th century it killed off 80 to 90 percent of all cattle in the region, leaving the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists in tatters, causing widespread famine and rendering the region weak in the face of European colonization.

At its height in the 1920s, the rinderpest footprint 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.

In the early 1980s, the disease was still ravaging livestock herds around the world, with devastating epidemics hitting South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Losses in Nigeria in the 1980s totalled $2 billion. A 1994 outbreak in northern Pakistan wiped out more than 50 000 cattle and buffalo before being brought under control with help from FAO.

Between 1994 and 2009, around 170 countries and territories succeeded in eliminating rinderpest and acquired OIE certification.

By early 2000, the rinderpest virus was contained to parts of the Somali Ecosystem (SES), an area covering southern Somalia and adjoining parts of Ethiopia and Kenya, where its footprint could still be found in the bloodstreams of certain animal populations. The last-ever outbreak of the disease occurred in Kenya, in 2001.

Today the last reservoir appears to have been cleared; setting the stage for a full global certification of rinderpest eradication. FAO is committed to seeing the last control activities completed next year in partnership with OIE and all concerned stakeholders.

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