A new analysis tracing the global eradication of rinderpest, a deadly cattle disease, could serve as a guide to help eradicate other animal diseases in the future. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) coordinated the study, which was published last week in the journal Science.
Rinderpest was a severely infective and destructive disease that spread across Europe, Asia and Africa over hundreds of years. There was no cure, and the disease could decimate entire herds in a matter of days. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization officially declared the disease eradicated in June 2011.
After smallpox, rinderpest is just the second disease – and the first livestock disease – to be eradicated.
According to the ILRI, several factors including development of an effective temperature-stable vaccine, collaborations between veterinary health officials and cattle farmers to deliver those vaccines, and reliance on the knowledge and expertise of the local herders to determine the location and movement of outbreaks contributed to the eradication of rinderpest.
An earlier vaccine was effective in immunizing cattle against rinderpest, but its sensitivity to temperature made it difficult to deliver and administer to animals, especially in remote areas of Africa that served as the disease’s final stronghold.
Jeffery Mariner, who developed the temperature-stable vaccine, is the lead author of the report. The vaccine was a critical tool in eradication efforts, but Mariner credits local herders and villagers with getting the vaccine to the right animals at the right times. Veterinarians and scientists involved in the eradication program recruited and trained community-based animal health workers (CAHWs), who knew their local terrain and the customs within their communities. The CAHWs travelled from herd to herd, on foot, immunizing cattle.
According to the report, it turned out that the CAHWs were not only efficient at delivering the vaccine, they were very adept at vaccinating and achieving a high level of herd immunity.
"We soon discovered that the livestock owners knew more than anyone -- including government officials, researchers or veterinarians -- where outbreaks were occurring," Mariner says. "It was their expertise about the sizes of cattle herds, their location, seasonal movement patterns and optimal time for vaccination that made it possible for us to eradicate rinderpest."
The report’s authors suggest that some of these lessons learned in eradicating rinderpest could apply to eradicating other critical livestock diseases. Currently, the international animal health community is applying the rinderpest model in developing strategies for eradicating peste des petits ruminants (PPR), also known as "goat plague” which causes serious losses in sheep and goats in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. These strategies include participatory surveillance, CAHWs, a temperature-stable vaccine and training for local livestock producers.
Eventually the report’s authors say, the same lessons could apply to diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease and zoonotic diseases such as avian flu.
Read more from the International Livestock Research Institute.