IAH scientists contributed to a special meeting at the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome (13-15th October), culminating in an announcement by the FAO's Director General that they had ended field operations on rinderpest. "As of mid 2010, FAO is confident that the rinderpest virus has been eliminated from Europe, Asia, Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, and Africa," reports the FAO. Since no other parts of the world were affected by rinderpest, this means that rinderpest has been eradicated.
For centuries the virus caused devastation amongst domestic cattle and buffalo in Europe, Africa and Asia, mortality being 80 to 90%. The virus caused dreadful damage in both respiratory and digestive tracts, leading to diarrhea, dehydration, and ultimately death.
Over a number of decades IAH scientists developed novel diagnostic tests, trained local people and scientists of Africa and Asia in how to use them, and performed thousands of diagnostic tests to advise and monitor the eradication programme. IAH's Pirbright Laboratory also hosts the World Reference Laboratory for Rinderpest, on behalf of the FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)
You can see the IAH's Dr Michael Baron talking about the eradication of rinderpest on the BBSRC site and read more about IAH developed diagnostic tests and trained people to use them in Africa and Asia.
Dr John Anderson, has written a blog about this amazing achievement on the Global Food Security website.
The FAO, in partnership with OIE and other organisations, launched the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme in 1994, with the objective of eradicating the virus by 2010. In the event, no known outbreaks of the disease have occurred since 2001, and continued surveillance indicates that rinderpest virus has been eliminated from its last stronghold, the Somali Ecosystem. At the Rome meeting experts reviewed how this monumental achievement was obtained, and looked forward to how the lessons learned can be applied to the eradication of other livestock viruses.
"There has never been such an important and devastating disease as rinderpest in livestock," said Dr Michael Baron of the IAH. "We've known about it and its problems for a thousand years - and we've got rid of it."
Dr John Anderson, MBE, Head of the FAO's Rinderpest World Reference Laboratory at IAH until his retirement in 2008 said "I think that the biggest achievement of veterinary history has been the eradication of rinderpest globally." Rinderpest virus is the only virus of animals to have been eradicated, and only the second virus of all to be eliminated, the first being smallpox virus of humans by 1980.
That the battle against rinderpest has been so successful is a testament to the persistence and passion shown by many people, comprising scientists and veterinarians in both developed and emerging countries, officials in organisations such as the FAO and OIE and contributing governments, including the UK, and - not least - the countless number of villagers who owned cattle, and their supporting governments.
"I think we should look back at the success of the global rinderpest eradication programme and see it as a blueprint," said John Anderson. "This blueprint won't necessarily work with all diseases or all animal virus diseases but it can work as a basic format to approach eradication programmes. For too long I think people have been involved in controlling diseases and not actually dreaming that it is possible to eradicate a disease from the world - and with rinderpest we did."