Rinderpest is a merciless killer of cattle. The highly infectious virus has threatened food security in Africa and West Asia for decades. But through the co-operative efforts of governments, organizations and individuals, this scourge is being eliminated in Africa. Pioneered under a UNDP/EU-funded project in Tanzania, the isotope-related ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) technology enables the critical post vaccination monitoring. IAEA has been providing technical support for the extension of ELISA throughout Africa, while inter-agency collaboration plays a key role in the remarkable success of the Pan African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC).

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Ending Africa's Rinderpest Plague

No issue concerns Africa as much as food security. Problems affecting food supplies across national borders necessitate regional mobilization, and livestock has received special attention in such regional efforts. The reasons are simple: nearly 80 percent of Africa's population rely on agriculture for their income; 75 percent of these farmers own livestock; and Rinderpest is perhaps the single largest threat to livestock.

When the disease strikes, it can wipe out up to 90% of the cattle in an area. In numerous African epidemics, rinderpest wrought widespread devastation, depriving farmers and herders of milk, meat, hides, income and draught power. Despite the existence of a vaccine since the 1920s, lack of regional co-ordination doomed earlier eradication efforts to failure. Moreover, no technology was available for continent-wide seromonitoring.

Indeed, rinderpest had been virtually eliminated from Africa in the 1970s, but success was proclaimed prematurely and the vaccinating process ceased too soon. Millions of cattle in 22 African countries were vaccinated at the cost of over US$ 50 million. But rinderpest resurged with a vengeance between 1979 and 1983, when an epidemic afflicted more than 100 million cattle. In Nigeria alone, 500,000 cattle died, costing the country nearly US$ 2 billion.

OAU takes the lead

It became clear to Africa's leadership that the only way to defeat Rinderpest would be a comprehensive region-wide undertaking. Thus in 1986, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) launched the Pan African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC) aimed at complete eradication across the continent. PARC was conceived as a two-pronged effort combining the regional activities of a co-ordination unit and national projects in 35 participating countries.

The OAU was joined by a host of development partners: the European Union (EU) is PARC's main sponsor, while a consortium of other international and bilateral donors, and wide assortment of organizations, institutions and individuals are contributing. The IAEA has been the main source of technical support for the use of ELISA in PARC's post-vaccination disease monitoring.

Rinderpest can only be passed from animal to animal. If there is no living carrier, the virus disappears. One vaccination, moreover, protects a cow from the disease for life. When at least 85% of a bovine population is vaccinated the virus is predictably extinguished.

Previous initiatives failed because they were unable to sustain high enough levels of immunity. It was evident to PARC's leadership that a series of technology-based procedures had to be developed, standardized and systematized to reach continent-wide success at the village level. PARC's programme, therefore, involves three steps: mass vaccination; observation and surveillance, i.e. seromonitoring; and final certification. Remarkably, complete eradication is now in sight.

Mass vaccination campaigns

Mass vaccination has meant reaching millions of cattle across vast expanses. In this phase, trained national and local personnel drove to remote villages in vaccine-equipped vans, preceded by promotional campaigns, and farmers and herders travelled from far and wide to have their cattle vaccinated.

For particularly remote and risk-prone areas, PARC developed an approach involving Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and community participation. Community representatives have been trained by veterinary authorities as Community-based Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) to deliver basic animal health care and to vaccinate.

Post-vaccination follow-up

Effective seromonitoring becomes especially important in the final stages of eradication. A standardized system was needed to determine the effectiveness of the campaign and to detect any new outbreaks of the disease. The surveillance process required two systems, the first being international standards that countries have to attain to achieve final, certified verification of eradication. The "OIE Pathway", a 5 to 7 year post-vaccination series of declarations, was thus established by the OIE (Organisation Internationale des Epizooties), with technical support from the IAEA and other partners.

A technology-based method for systematically travelling the pathway was also needed. Therefore, a post-vaccination monitoring technology and system was developed. This pivoted on having a method that could test reliably for rinderpest and be simple and inexpensive enough to be used on a large scale.


Successful application of the ELISA technology in the UNDP-EU Tanzania project during 1984-1986 led to PARC's decision to employ this technique throughout its campaign. The IAEA was asked to join the partnership and provide the main technical support.

It was evident at once that ELISA had multiple advantages. A diagnostic instrument developed with the use of isotopes, ELISA can measure the response to rinderpest vaccination, verify immunity levels, detect any remaining foci of virus activity after vaccination and ultimately confirm that rinderpest has been eradicated.

The reagents in ELISA are used in such small quantities that mass-producing the test is very inexpensive. With ELISA, information can also be processed quickly. The tests can be produced in a travel kit and can sustain the sometimes long and hard journeys to laboratories in developing countries. The ELISA technology has the additional benefit of being adaptable for diagnosis of almost every animal disease.

The biggest challenge was to develop the institutional linkages to make the seromonitoring strategy work. The IAEA provided training for national veterinary staff across Africa to be able to use ELISA as a monitoring tool and to establish a feedback system. The Agency was also responsible for quality assurance, ensuring the correct functioning and usage of the ELISA technology. Co-ordination meetings are held annually to present data and conclusions from each country. The counterpart staff trained by the IAEA are now providing the bulk of technical support for seromonitoring in Africa.

Targeting the last traces

The anti-viral campaign has been executed in 35 countries over the past 11 years. Five years ago, 14 of those countries were still infested. Now PARC is concentrating efforts on East Africa, where the last pockets of the disease are being identified.

For example, rinderpest outbreaks were confirmed in Kenya in 1996 and PARC, FAO and the Kenyan Government co-operated swiftly to locate contaminated areas and commence with emergency vaccination.

The IAEA has been instrumental in a UNDP/EU/FAO-funded emergency control effort in Tanzania during 1997-1998. UNDP's project focuses on a rigorous surveillance strategy, including an ELISA laboratory being established at the Veterinary Investigation Laboratory in Arusha, with the assistance of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division in Vienna. The ELISA technology is crucial for understanding the current outbreak, identifying its source and the routes it has travelled and locating specific areas where vaccination and seromonitoring are needed. It is hoped that both Tanzania and Kenya will be rinderpest-free by the end of 1998.

Clinical diagnoses of rinderpest were also made in 1996 in Southern Sudan. Thanks to the strength of PARC, however, the disease is rapidly being brought under control.

In Ethiopia, where there are more cattle than in all of West Africa, eradication is in sight. The last rinderpest outbreaks were recorded in 1995.

Benefit-Cost ratio: 25 to 1

The benefits of rinderpest eradication far outweigh the efforts and costs. Major outbreaks of rinderpest usually last about 5 years and result in average cattle losses of 30 percent. A new rinderpest pandemic in Africa could cost up to US$ 960 million per annum. Under PARC, approximately 45 million cattle are vaccinated yearly at an annual cost of US$ 36 million. Studies show an annual cost-benefit relationship of about 25 to 1.

For the six West African countries which have halted vaccination, the total cost savings over 5 years will be approximately US$ 30 million. As for benefits from healthier livestock, one study on Mali reported that since PARC began, annual beef output has been increased by 21 percent milk off-take by 33 percent and hides by 17 percent. Yearly herd growth increased from less than 1 to 8.5 percent. The total value of cattle products is estimated to have increased by 18 percent and net income per animal has been increased by 37 percent.

A Rinderpest-free future?

Support to PARC through IAEA Model Project RAF/5/043 has been recognized as a success. During an IAEA-convened seminar in 1997, PARC's partners (OAU, EU, FAO, USAID among others) declared that the complete eradication of rinderpest was achievable in the next 3-5 years.

The fight against rinderpest in not limited to Africa. Six years after the launching of PARC, and following parallel efforts in South Asia and the Middle East, a landmark meeting in 1992 announced that "global eradication of rinderpest is achievable in the foreseeable future". The IAEA is again involved in the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP), established under the auspices of FAO's EMPRES (Emergency Preparedness Programme) to co-ordinate world-wide activities. The target date for worldwide eradication is 2005, with final certification in 2010.

PARC has become a model for dealing with animal diseases, such as contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP) - currently the most serious transmissible transboundary disease in Africa. An anti-CBPP campaign is now being developed with funding from the EU and the World Bank. ELISA has already been adapted for CBPP and the IAEA co-ordinates a programme for monitoring CBPP with ELISA technology involving 12 countries.

Foreword: Mohamed ElBaradei
Foreword: James G. Speth
Introduction: Building Development Partnerships
Better Feeding for Better Breeding
Ending Africa's Rinderpest Plague
Defeating the Medfly
More Rice from Less Land
Helping to Save the Black Sea