A World Free from Rinderpest

International Cooperation at its Best

A World Free from Rinderpest On Tuesday, 20 September, a special Rinderpest Freedom Celebration was held to bring together some of the key players that contributed to this great feat, and gave them the opportunity to share what the experience means to them. By some estimates, the eradication has left Africa an annual economic benefit of around US$920 million. FAO Deputy Director General Ann Tutwiler opened the event and commented on how the eradication of rinderpest is evidence of the power of international cooperation.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano then discussed the IAEA’s work in support of livestock production and health in food security and Deputy Director General Kazuaki Miyagishima from the OIE presented on the importance of veterinary medicine as a public good. Ahmed El Sawalhy, Director of the African Union told what the ‘freedom from rinderpest’ means to Africa. Margaret Kamar, Minister of Higher Education in Science and Technology from Kenya, and Ambassadors Gianni Ghisi from Italy and Dinkar Khullar from India also detailed the perspectives from their respective regions.

Rinderpest, No More

From 1979 to 1983, a vastly infectious disease known as Rinderpest swept across Africa and infected over 100 million cattle. 500 000 died in Nigeria alone. For the people of Africa—80% of whom rely on agriculture for their income—this not only threatened livestock, but the well-being of the continent’s farmers, their families and their communities. However, after decades of countries’ commitments and their unwavering focus on eliminating the disease, international collaborations and consorted efforts by the IAEA and other international and regional organizations, rinderpest was finally declared eradicated on 25 May 2011. Such a momentous occasion merits a looks back at how much has been achieved along the way.

Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, the Organization for Africa Unity launched the Pan African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC) in 1986 with the goal of completely eradicating the virus across the continent. In order to provide veterinarians and farmers with the necessary tools to diagnose and control the disease’s spread among livestock, the IAEA helped to develop the Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA). Safe, relatively simple to use and low cost, ELISA was a perfect tool to provide developing countries with the capacity to monitor the presence of rinderpest.

Through an IAEA coordinated research project, ELISA kits were rapidly deployed to laboratories in Member States participating in PARC. Veterinary staff across Africa were trained via the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme, while software programs facilitated data acquisition, processing, management, interpretation and reporting, as well as quality assurance. Additional financial and technical support arrived from various other organizations, including the Swedish International Development Aid, FAO, the European Commission/Union, the Institute for Animal Health (IAH-Pirbright, UK) and the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (Cirad-France).

This holistic approach illustrates the enormous impact the global community can have when it combines the efforts of both local and international actors into one bout.