ILRI Biotechnology Theme: News

Goat plague next target of veterinary authorities now that cattle plague has been eradicated

Last known occurrences of rinderpest since 1995. IFPRI Discussion Paper 00923, November 2009, ‘The Global Effort to Eradicate Rinderpest’ by Peter Roeder and Karl Rich, 2020 Vision Initiative, a paper prepared for a project on Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development (www.ifpri.org/millionsfed) (illustration credit: FAO GREP).

Jeffrey Mariner, former advisor for special action areas to the Pan-African Rinderpest Campaign and current senior scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Kenya, is one of several authors of a paper published in the current issue of Veterinary Record on the subject of the rising importance of building a systematic program to eradicate a goat disease known as ‘peste des petits ruminants’ (PPR), or goat plague.

The editorial in the Veterinary Record explains why goat plague is replacing cattle plague among the world’s verterinary researchers.

‘This week saw a landmark in the history of the veterinary profession and, more specifically, its management of disease threats to food security. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) announced on June 28, 2011 that its member countries had passed a resolution declaring rinderpest to have been eradicated globally, building on an announcement in May that the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) at its General Session had passed a resolution to the effect that all countries in the world had been formally accredited as free from rinderpest.

‘These events mark the fact that the virus is no longer present in any of its natural hosts on this planet. No longer is it a cause of disease or a constraint to international trade. What is not generally appreciated is that the eradication of rinderpest has yielded benefits that surpass virtually every other development programme in agriculture, and will continue to do so into the future. For example, a preliminary study in Chad shows that over the period 1963 to 2002, each dollar spent on rinderpest eradication led to a benefit of at least US $16, a conservative estimate that only takes into account the benefits from reduced cattle deaths and resulting herd growth, without including secondary impacts on the economy as a whole (Rich and others 2011).

‘Building on the dramatic success of the global effort to eradicate rinderpest we now wish to draw attention to a related but significantly different morbillivirus disease, peste des petits ruminants (PPR), also known variously as goat plague, pseudorinderpest, pneumoenteritis and kata. A comprehensive review of the disease by research scientists at the Institute for Animal Health Pirbright laboratory (IAH Pirbright) is published in this issue of Veterinary Record and explains the scientific basis for considering eradication (Baron and others 2011).

‘Until relatively recently PPR was considered to be a parochial disease of west Africa; however, its range is now recognised to affect most of sub-Saharan Africa as well as a swathe of countries from Turkey through the Middle East to south Asia with recent alarming extensions into north Africa, central Asian countries and China. Capable of causing very high mortality in susceptible goat herds and sheep flocks, PPR exerts a major economic impact on farmers and their families dependent on small ruminants. There is a growing appreciation that PPR is a most serious constraint to the livelihoods of farming families and to food security in affected countries and that its control warrants significant investment. An additional concern is the lethal nature of PPR infection in wildlife species, many of which are endangered or threatened, including gazelles and mountain caprines. Until recently, losses were apparently restricted to extensive wildlife collections in the Middle East but now outbreaks are being recognised in free-ranging species such as the Sindh ibex (Capra aegagrus blythi) in Pakistan. It is probable that many cases of wildlife disease have passed unnoticed in remote locations.

‘Encouraged by what has been achieved with rinderpest and an understanding that the factors that marked rinderpest eradication as feasible apply equally to PPR, we believe that a global programme for the total eradication of PPR should be established as an international undertaking without delay. The FAO has recently hosted a number of symposia and workshops at which participating chief veterinary officers have unanimously requested such a global initiative against PPR. . . .’

Read the whole editorial in Veterinary Record: Rinderpest eradicated; what next?, 2011: 169. DOI:10-11 doi:10.1136/vr.d4011

Read a paper by Peter Roeder and ILRI scientist Karl Rich, The global effort to eradicate rinderpest, IFPRI Discussion Paper 00923, November 2009, prepared for the project on Millions Fed: Proven Successes in Agricultural Development.

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Deadly rinderpest virus today declared eradicated from the earth–’greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’

At OIE, ILRI's Jeff Mariner and others responsible for the eradication of rinderpest

At the 79th General Session of the United Nations World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), in Paris in May 2011, ILRI’s Jeff Mariner (second from right) stands among a group of distinguished people heading work responsible for the eradication of rinderpest, a status officially declared at this meeting (image credit: OIE).

Several world bodies are celebrating what is being described as ‘the greatest achievement in veterinary medicine’: the eradication of only the second disease from the face of the earth.

The disease is rinderpest, which means ‘cattle plague’ in German. It kills animals by a virus—and people by starving them through massive losses of their livestock.

‘In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,’ reports the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), ‘the disease devastated parts of Africa, triggering extensive famines. . . . After decades of efforts to stamp out a disease that kept crossing national borders, countries and institutions agreed they needed to coordinate their efforts under a single, cohesive programme. In 1994, the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP) was established at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in close association with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

‘Excellent science, a massive vaccination effort, close international coordination and the commitment of people at all levels have helped make rinderpest eradication possible.

‘On June 28, 2011, FAO’s governing Conference will adopt a resolution officially declaring that rinderpest has been eradicated from animals worldwide. The successful fight against rinderpest underscores what can be achieved when communities, countries and institutions work together.’

Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty

Australian Peter Doherty, 1996 winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine who served on the board of trustees of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), a predecessor of  ILRI (photo credit: published on the Advance website).

Australian Peter Doherty, an immunologist who is the only veterinarian to win the Nobel Prize, for Physiology or Medicine, in 1996, and who served as chair of the board of trustees research program of the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD), a predecessor of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is attending the FAO ceremonies this week. In an interview with FAO, he said:

Vaccine research is currently a very dynamic area of investigation and with sufficient investment and the enthusiastic participation of industry partners at the “downstream” end, we can achieve even better vaccines against many veterinary and human diseases.

The Washington Post in May reported that ‘the World Organization for Animal Health, at its annual meeting in Paris on Wednesday, accepted documentation from the last 14 countries that they were now free of rinderpest. The organization, which goes by its French acronym, OIE, was started in 1924 in response to a rinderpest importation in Europe.

‘The most recent recorded outbreak occurred in Kenya in 2001. Much of the past decade has been spent looking for new cases, in domesticated animals and in the wild, wandering herds of ungulates, or hoofed animals, in East Africa. The last place of especially intense surveillance was Somalia, where the final outbreak of smallpox occurred in 1977.

‘“There are a huge number of unsung heroes in lots of countries that made this possible,” said Michael Baron, a rinderpest virologist at the Institute for Animal Health in Surrey, England. “In most places, they were ordinary veterinary workers who were doing the vaccination, the surveillance, the teaching.”

‘Three things made rinderpest eradicable. Animals that survived infection became immune for life. A vaccine developed in the 1960s by Walter Plowright, an English scientist who died last year at 86, provided equally good immunity. And even though the virus could infect wild animals, it did not have a reservoir of host animals capable of carrying it for prolonged periods without becoming ill.

‘In 1994, the FAO launched an eradication program that was largely financed by European countries, although the United States, which never had rinderpest, also contributed money. The effort consisted of massive vaccination campaigns, which were made more practicable when two American researchers made a version of the Plowright vaccine that required no refrigeration. . . .’

One of those researchers was Jeffrey Mariner, now working at ILRI, in Nairobi, Kenya. Mariner also helped in surveillance work ‘with a technique called “participatory epidemiology” in which outside surveyors meet with herdsmen and ask open-ended questions about the health of their animals and when they last noticed certain symptoms.

‘“It was local knowledge that really helped us trace back the last places where transmission occurred—sitting down underneath a tree in the shade, listening to storytelling,” said Lubroth, of the FAO. . . .’

Read the whole article in the Washington Post, Rinderpest, or ‘cattle plague,’ becomes only second disease to be eradicated, 27 May 2011.

Read FAO’s interview of Peter Doherty: Healthier animals, healthier people, June 2011.

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Short film illustrates expanded, agile partnerships behind recent disease research breakthrough

This short (5-minute) film, ‘Battling a Killer Cattle Disease’, produced by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), provides background and context for a recent research breakthrough made at ILRI’s animal health laboratories in Nairobi, Kenya, and at their partner institutions in the UK and Ireland. The research was funded over 7 years in large part by the Wellcome Trust in addition to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Trypanosomosis is a wasting disease of livestock that maims and eventually kills millions of cattle in Africa and costs the continent billions of dollars annually.

In 2011, a group of geneticists at these collaborating institutions identified two genes that enable Africa’s ancient N’Dama cattle breed to resist development of the disease trypanosomosis when infected with the causative, trypanosome, parasite.

The team members were able to make use of the latest gene mapping and genomic technologies because they had the genetic systems and experimental populations of livestock in place to do so as these technologies came on stream.

Eventually, these results should make it easier for livestock breeders in Africa to breed animals that will remain healthy and productive in areas infested by the disease-carrying tsetse fly.

The international team that came together in this project is an example of the disciplinary breadth as well as agility needed to do frontline biology today. In this work, the team developed several new research approaches and technologies that were needed to unravel some fundamental biological issues, with likely benefits for many African farmers and herders.

Those interviewed in the film include Harry Noyes, at the University of Liverpool; Alan Archibald, at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh; Andy Brass, at the University of Manchester; and Steve Kemp and Morris Agaba, at ILRI.

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