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Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP)


Why action now ... is more important than ever

Rinderpest eradication by 2010

WITHIN the next decade there is a very real prospect that rinderpest will become, like smallpox in humans, a disease of the past. Today, as we enter a new millennium, progress made by the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP), has limited the disease to a small number of sites in eastern Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. But the spectre of cattle plague, with its devastating epidemics of the past, continues to be a threat as long as these few small areas harbour rinderpest. So, intensified action for these remaining pockets of rinderpest infection is being promoted and co-ordinated by FAO under GREP.

Background

The control of rinderpest to the point we are at today has been a remarkable triumph for veterinary science and national commitment but it has not been achieved without setbacks. As recently as the 1980s, rinderpest raged across Africa, and this occurred at a time when the disease was thought to have been beaten after a very successful international vaccination campaign through the 1960s and 1970s. But with hindsight, the campaign stopped too soon and, from small remaining pockets of infection, the disease escaped. Countries were not prepared, the cattle vulnerable and the cattle plague spread rapidly, just as it had nearly a century before, when the majority of domestic cattle and susceptible wildlife were killed in a broad swathe across sub-Saharan Africa. A similar pattern of rinderpest epidemics was also experienced in Asia in the 1980s when the disease spread back from South Asia to borders of Europe. The lesson of these events is that near eradication is not good enough.

Xinjiang market scene 1998

What is GREP?

The Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme links rinderpest campaigns in Africa, and Asia and collaborates with national, regional and other international organizations to provide a forum through which activities can be co-ordinated and to which technical support can be given. The Secretariat is located within the Animal Health Service of FAO in Rome.

Is complete eradication possible?

YES. The world is on course to total eradication by 2010 as long as commitment is sustained complacency is the enemy.

What remains to be done?

The last few foci of the disease must be located, contained and eliminated. Where there are suspicions that the disease could be lurking, these must be verified and dealt with. This needs innovative community-based programmes in remote and insecure areas. The means are available, all we need to do is apply them.

Map animation 1980s, 1990s, 1999

And if we stop now?

Apart from the waste of all the effort and money over the years, the risk of the disease spreading back with its inevitable devastating effect on livestock farming, food security, rural incomes and international trade is too great to contemplate.

The cost of continuing?

It is estimated that about US$ 12 million could be enough to eradicate disease from the last four foci. Compare this to the US$ 2 billion estimated total loss from the outbreaks in Africa alone in the 1980s, and with the estimated US$ 100 million spent each year world-wide on vaccination, money that could be saved by total eradication of the disease.

How is total eradication to be achieved?

The internationally accepted OIE Pathway is a timetable for the route to eradication.

Who benefits from a world free from rinderpest?

Ultimately everyone benefits through greater global food security, enhanced international trade, and conservation of wildlife.

The wildlife connection

Rinderpest can pass between wildlife and cattle but once the disease is eliminated from cattle it dies out naturally in wildlife. Eradication of rinderpest, thus, serves to safeguard the wildlife heritage as well as rural livelihoods dependent on it.

Immediate challenges

  1. To define, contain and eliminate the last foci of rinderpest persistence

  2. To remove doubts about rinderpest persistence

  3. To persuade uncommitted countries to endorse GREP

  4. To strengthen rinderpest surveillance and emergency preparedness

  5. To ensure cessation of unnecessary mass vaccination

Summary

Eliminating rinderpest from the world will help to improve food security and the livelihood of the rural poor. In this sense, the battle against rinderpest is also the fight against poverty. It can be done, but a last effort is needed to ensure that the job is finished through true commitment of all involved.