Rinderpest has been known, and dreaded, for millennia. The deadly animal disease has killed livestock and wildlife, and threatening rural livelihoods and food security. A few weeks ago the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization annpounce that rinderpest has been eradicated world wide.
With the launching in 1994 of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme (GREP), the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation began to consolidate gains in rinderpest control. FAO worked with World Organisation for Animal Health, which had been combating rinderpest since 1929. Rinderpest is only the second infectious disease in history to be wiped out, after smallpox, which was declared eradicated in 1980. Both diseases were among the first to be treated by vaccination in the 18th century. Eradication has been possible because neither disease mutates rapidly. The last known rinderpest case was in Kenya in 2001. Initially GREP worked to understand the geographical distribution and epidemiology of the disease. Later, it acted to contain rinderpest within the infected eco-systems, and to eliminate reservoirs of infection. Once experts believed that the virus had likely been eliminated, GREP concentrated on surveillance to prove the absence of the disease.
The next big target is polio—an incredibly wonderful prospect. A similar approach is being used: find out where the disease is, control it—particularly with vaccination—and then use surveillance to prove that it’s gone, or detect any outbreaks. Vaccination of hundreds of millions of people, especially children, has been steadily shrinking the area where the virus is active. Only a few remaining cases of polio are being found in a handfull of countries. Yet the final eradication of the disease is proving difficult and expensive.