The achievement of a world free from rinderpest, a highly contagious viral disease afflicting ruminants that caused immense livestock losses and devastating economic damage throughout history, was celebrated at the IAEA's 55th General Conference in Vienna, Austria.
The IAEA made significant technical contributions to this accomplishment through the development, evaluation, validation and distribution of immunological and molecular nuclear and nuclear-related technologies for the diagnosis and control of the disease. Yet, as Yukiya Amano, IAEA Director General, said, achieving this goal would have not been possible without cooperation among the world's institutions such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
"The technical partnership of the IAEA with the FAO, the OIE, the African Union and the national governments in the development, evaluation, validation and distribution of immunological and nuclear technologies for the diagnosis and control of rinderpest was fundamental for success," he said.
Kazuaki Miyagishima, OIE Deputy Director General, also stressed the importance of cooperation. "The IAEA, OIE and FAO played a key role in the eradication of this disease."
In her speech, Ann Tutwiler, Deputy Director General of FAO, focused on the contribution of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division. "The Joint FAO/IAEA Division on nuclear techniques in food and agriculture was instrumental in introducing new diagnostic tools and building and transferring laboratory capacities and capabilities in developing countries," she said.
Gianni Ghisi, Ambassador of Italy, evoked the first attempts to control rinderpest in Europe and stressed how important cooperation was to achieve this goal. "I wish to express special gratitude to the FAO, OIE, IAEA and other major donors, as well as to the dedicated professionals in research institutions and bilateral and multilateral development agencies," he said. "Together we have defeated rinderpest, together we can defeat other diseases, together we can beat hunger and poverty."
Devastating Track Record
The economic impact of rinderpest could not be underestimated. As Ahmed El Sawalhy, Director of African Union's Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (IBAR), reminded the audience, the economic consequences for a developing continent such as Africa was devastating.
"The rinderpest epidemic alone in the early 1980s in Africa is estimated to have caused direct losses amounting to US$400-500 million, while the economies of the affected countries suffered indirect losses equivalent to more than $1 billion," he commented.
Margaret Kamar, Minister of Higher Education Science and Technology of Kenya, said that the removal of this stumbling block to development is set to have remarkable direct benefits. "The direct benefits of eradication were worth US$0.5 billion, but the disappearance of the disease will have other benefits too," she said. "These economic gains will help in transforming Kenya into a middle-income country, providing a high quality life to all its citizens by the year 2030."
Her views were echoed by those expressed by Dinkar Khullar, Ambassador of India.
Although the world is free from rinderpest, the Joint FAO/IAEA expertise will still be called upon in both the immediate and longer term post-eradication phase. The rinderpest virus is preserved in an infective form in some laboratories, mainly for the production of vaccines in the event the virus were to reappear. The IAEA has also been asked by the Joint FAO/OIE Commission on rinderpest to be responsible for the monitoring of the laboratories and to take the lead for rinderpest virus sequestration.
In 1994, the FAO launched its Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP) to consolidate gains in rinderpest control and move towards eradication of the disease.
Rinderpest was officially declared eradicated on 25 May by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) in Paris.
Rinderpest is the first animal disease ever to be eliminated, and only the second time that a disease has been eradicated worldwide, after smallpox in humans.