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
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.
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
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
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
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
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