Eradication of Rinderpest in Africa
Rinderpest, also known as cattle plague, is a contagious disease of cattle, Asian buffaloes, yaks and other cloven hoofed mammals both domesticated and wild, including swine, African buffaloes and giraffes.
Rinderpest changed the course of history. It is the most dreaded bovine disease which for centuries swept across Europe and Asia with marauding armies causing the disaster, death and devastation that preceded the fall of the Roman empire, the conquest of Christian Europe by Charlemagne, the French revolution, the impoverishment of Russia and the colonisation of Africa.
It appeared in Egypt in 1844 and 1865, Abyssinia in 1890, Japan in 1892 and the Philippines in 1898. The last European outbreaks of rinderpest began in 1917 when the disease crossed the Caucasus entered Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania in company with the Bolshevik armies and moved eastwards into Poland in 1920. Due to international efforts that epidemic was finally defeated in 1923. Since then, Europe has been free of epidemic rinderpest.
Focal outbreaks such as those in Belgium in 1920 and Italy in 1949 were introduced by cattle and wildlife imported from India and Somalia. Interestingly, it was the Belgian incident that led to the only introduction of rinderpest into the Americas when cattle from Belgium were shipped to Brazil.
This trade-related outbreak in Belgium prompted the founding of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in 1924. Elsewhere, the widespread occurrence of rinderpest after World War II was a main reason for the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945.
Rinderpest and the beginnings of AU-IBAR
In Africa, first thoughts of creating a continental office to control animal diseases were directly set off by rinderpest when the disease entered the continent at the end of the 19th century and severely hit the cattle population. A conference held in Nairobi in 1948 to study the disease situation spawned the idea which eventually brought about what is today known as the Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources, a specialised technical office of the African Union (AU-IBAR).
The objective of the final phase of the rinderpest eradication initiative is to ensure that freedom from the disease is actually achieved and get this finding officially approved by the OIE. With this achieved the initiative will have contributed enormously to livestock development and provided for a great opening of new trade opportunities. This in return is an indispensable building block to reach the overarching goal – which is to lift people involved in livestock farming in Africa out of poverty.
Past rinderpest control efforts in Africa
In the 1960s rinderpest had spread throughout large parts of Africa and a ten-year mass vaccination programme was set up to immunize entire bovine populations. In total some 80 million doses of vaccine were delivered to 30 million cattle.
While rinderpest was wiped out in many of the countries involved in the campaign, the development of capacity to identify and stamp out residual reservoirs of infection were neglected – leading to the to re-emergence of the disease that swept across sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1980s undoing most of what had been achieved.
From 1986 until today decisive actions have been taken to reclaim the territory and completely eradicate the virus from Africa. By 2007 the various initiatives managed to remove a focus in south-ern Sudan leaving only one very last one in the Somali ecosystem.
Today it is believed that the eradication initiative has been 100% successful and the virus completely defeated. The final stage is now looking at attaining scientific proof for the very last unconfirmed area – and from there let trade flourish.
Main achievements of SERECU phase 1
- Coordinated regional and international inputs from AU/IBAR, FAO/GREP, OIE and IAEA to agree on standards and interpretation of data.
- Identified needs and gaps in veterinary delivery systems for future interventions in rinderpest eradication and control of other transboundary diseases.
- Formulation of a strategy that focuses on the proof of freedom from rinderpest, guards against resurgence and achieves OIE accreditation, which is the basis of SERECU II.
- Basis for sustainable and effective coordination of the final eradication of rinderpest from its suspected last remaining foci in Africa.
- Developed capacities and experiences to integrate national-level actions with regional and global actions, including setting the pace for timely and simultaneous implementation of surveys in the three Somali ecosystem countries and ensuring their adherence to operating procedures.
- The problem of persistent antibody prevalence in specific locations in Southern Somalia has been resolved.
- Ethiopia has been recognized free from rinderpest (May 2008, 76th General Session of the World Organisation of Animal Health (OIE)), while Kenya is recognized free from disease (former OIE Pathway) and Somalia is provisionally free (former OIE pathway).
- The OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code chapter on rinderpest and the accompanying surveillance guidelines including the OIE Pathway have been revised to take into account the specificities of mild rinderpest.