A remarkable breakthrough in the fight against infectious animal diseases has taken place with the announcement of the eradication of rinderpest, a highly contagious viral disease of cattle, buffalo, yak and other wildlife species. On 22 May 2011, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) officially declared all countries around the world rinderpest free. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is expected to formally recognize the world-wide eradication of the disease in June 2011. So far, rinderpest is only the second viral disease after smallpox to have been successfully wiped off the face of the Earth.
For centuries, the deadly virus has been a major cause of livestock losses. It has killed millions of cattle and wild animals, and seriously damaged food security in Africa and Asia where the disease has been most prevalent. Rinderpest has had a very negative impact on rural economies and livelihoods in these regions.
Rinderpest was initially addressed through ‘stamping out’ – the slaughter of all infested or exposed animals. Later, it was brought under control by vaccination, which has been the key to its eradication in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. For vaccination to work, diagnostic tests had to be developed to identify the location and spread of the disease, which animals were infected, and to monitor the efficiency of the vaccination campaigns. The IAEA, working with the OIE and the FAO, made an important technical contribution to rinderpest eradication by developing and distributing immunological and molecular nuclear and nuclear-related technologies for the diagnosis and control of the disease. To identify the virus in animals, a nuclear related enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) technology was developed. It evolved gradually from a research tool into a safe, cost efficient and simple to use laboratory technology. In its final stage, the assay could be used to detect viral antigen in pathological samples or exudates from affected animals. It could also be used to distinguish between rinderpest and another virus, peste des petits ruminants, enabling unequivocal identification of rinderpest infection.
The rinderpest ELISA was adapted into a kit format, specifically designed for the countries participating in the Pan African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC), and was extensively deployed in field diagnosis. Eventually, the ELISA became one of the key elements to the global elimination of the virus, together with the vaccine that brought the disease under control.
Through its technical cooperation (TC) programme the IAEA supplied equipment and trained veterinary staff across Africa in the use of ELISA as a monitoring tool. A comprehensive feedback system was established, which facilitated data acquisition, processing, management, interpretation and reporting, as well as quality assurance.
Numerous activities were carried out under regional TC projects to harmonize livestock development policies, rinderpest surveillance and emergency preparedness. In addition, performance indicators as well as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for sero-monitoring and sero-surveillance were published, as was an international agreement on standard for the accreditation of veterinary laboratories for trade purposes. A network of 20 veterinary laboratories was also established to monitor national vaccine campaigns.
Today, most technical support for sero-monitoring in Africa is provided by national staff trained by the IAEA. The tools and techniques developed for PARC were also used in the West Asian and South Asian Rinderpest Eradication Campaigns, as well by FAO’s field implementation activities of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP).