Through a combination of scientific expertise and international collaboration and co-ordination, the eradication of the rinderpest virus (cattle plague) can be viewed as an achievement on par with the eradication of smallpox from the human population, the only other time an infectious disease has been eradicated.
Concerted effort by national veterinary services in both industrialised and developing countries, aided by international organisations, has brought the once dreaded rinderpest livestock disease to the point of extinction. In its severest form, rinderpest is capable of killing up to 95% of the animals it infects. However, the development of new vaccine technologies, community-based health delivery and disease searching techniques and diagnostic tools over the last 20 years has helped to protect the livelihoods of the livestock-dependent rural poor in developing countries and avoid massive financial losses in terms of milk, meat, and animal traction.
Since 1990, rinderpest control programmes have protected tens of millions of livestock keepers, particularly pastoralists whose cattle are their main livelihood assets, from experiencing major losses in milk, meat, hide production, and household income. Concurrently the control and eradication of rinderpest has also protected Africa’s wildlife population, as made evident by the recovery of wildebeest numbers in East Africa following the removal of rinderpest from local cattle populations.
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