Features: Africa Making History

Snapshots of Progress

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Algal Bloom

African countries are stamping out a crippling disease called rinderpest that plagues cattle. The IAEA and FAO are supporting efforts to make it the second disease in history - after smallpox - ever to be eradicated from the world.

The Overview : African Countries Save Treasured Cattle from Crippling Disease

Bamako, Mali -- At livestock markets in Mali's capital Bamako, Bowema Diarra waits to sell his cattle. Feed is scarce and the dry season is approaching. A stream of rib-skinny cattle shuffles past. Most are on an express track to the slaughterhouse across the road.

Today Bowema trades his stock. But the cattle raiser has vivid memories of times when he could not. When a deadly cattle disease called rinderpest decimated his herd. It spawned famine and cost Africa $2 billion during epidemics in the early 1980s.

That was then, this is now. For the past 18 years the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have been working together with the world's farmers, scientists, and politicians to relegate this virus to the history books. If efforts keep pace in Africa and Asia, by 2010 rinderpest will become the second disease in history (after smallpox) ever to be eradicated from the world.

Helping African countries get closer to making history are tools of nuclear science and biotechnology supported through IAEA partnerships. Countries are using them to monitor progress, and to confirm their freedom from the disease.

Rinderpest is an ancient disease, thought to stem from human measles. The highly contagious virus does not respect national boarders. Over the centuries it provoked economic and social turmoil in Europe, Africa and Asia. Epidemics preceded the fall of the Roman Empire and the French revolution. When the disease was introduced from Europe into Africa at the end of the 19th century, sixty thousand East Africans starved to death. It crippled livestock dependant communities and caused widespread famines. Some say it opened the door to the colonization of Africa.

Things changed in the 1950s, when a vaccine was developed that gave lifelong immunity to threatened animals. It was used in intensive global animal vaccination campaigns. Specialists monitoring the disease tracked and measured progress. Africa's campaign kicked off in the mid-1980s when the Organization of African Unity (OAU) launched the Pan African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC) aimed to eradicate the disease across the continent.

The OAU (today known as the African Union) soon was joined by a host of development partners. The IAEA, FAO and their Joint Division got behind the campaign through technical cooperation projects and specialized support. They backed development of tests to diagnose rinderpest and detect antibodies against the virus; supported technology transfer and equipment for African labs; helped train African scientists and staff to monitor and eradicate the disease; and strengthened links between African countries and international authorities setting animal health standards and tests to meet them.

Through concerted action, each year has seen more countries in Africa attain official recognition as free of rinderpest. Today, surveillance for the disease is constant, and in Africa it's known that only a small pocket of rinderpest remains in two countries where efforts now are concentrated. Vital steps that bring into closer view prize export markets and the goal of wiping the disease from the world.

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