Rinderpest: first eradicated animal disease – December 7, 2009


Rinderpest, one of the most devastating animal diseases known to man, will officially be declared extinct some time in the next eighteen months.

The Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated “It will be the first time in history that humankind has succeeded in killing off an animal disease and only the second time a disease has been consigned to the dustbin as a result of human efforts. The first was smallpox, in 1980.” 

The successful eradication was achieved after an intense decades-long campaign to isolate rinderpest, also known as cattle plague. Worldwide, millions of ruminants died from this devastating viral disease, which mortality rate exceeds 90 percent. The virus spreads by direct contact and through contaminated materials.



The disease has a long history going back to outbreaks described by the Romans in AD 376-386, and may have played a role in decline and collapse of the Roman Empire. In the eighteenth century, up to 90 percent of all cattle died in Africa south of the Sahara, causing widespread famine. The latest large outbreak occurred in northern Pakistan in 1994, killing fifty thousand cattle.


Eradication program

Vaccination was started in the sixties, and although successful at first, campaigns were often called off too soon and dramatic outbreaks reoccurred. In 1994 the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme was started. Activities included: training farmers in recognizing and reporting rinderpest, establishing emergency response plans, biosecurity protocols, and national programs for monitoring and control, and training veterinarians in the design and implementation of blood survey campaigns followed by clinical surveillance and the setup of laboratories.



Between 1994 and 2009, around 170 countries and territories succeeded in eliminating rinderpest and acquired OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) certification. The last-ever outbreak of the disease occurred in Kenya, in 2001. The last control activities need to be completed next year to reach the full global certification of rinderpest eradication.


A global “Yes, we can”

"When you think about it, it's quite remarkable that we are where we are today," Juan Lubroth, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer says. "This is a disease that has been an absolute scourge in agriculture for millennia."


"But if you look at it another way, the solution was simple. We had the know-how. We had the vaccine. What was missing was, in the first place, adequate and targeted investment, and, secondly, a cohesive global coordinating mechanism. Once we had those, solving the problem was just a matter of time. The very substantial investments of many development partners in this Programme, first among them the European Commission, and the strong commitment of national governments and of mandated regional organizations have been instrumental in this success story."


Source: FAO