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20 September 2011 | Vienna, Austria
IAEA General Conference

Statement at Rinderpest Freedom Celebration

by Deputy Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Ms. Anne Tutwiler

The eradication of rinderpest a devastating cattle plague, from its natural environment is an exceptional endeavour accomplished by and for humanity. Rinderpest is only the second disease worldwide, after the human disease smallpox, to be eradicated. The elimination of the rinderpest virus also marks the first time in history that an animal disease has been successfully eradicated.

We finally see the end of this scourge, which for over the course of a thousand years has spread from Asia to Europe and Africa, with two incursions in the Americas and Australia in the 1920s. Rinderpest destroyed millions of animals and taken a heavy toll on biodiversity, undermining the livelihoods of people. Rinderpest had a devastating effect on food security, nutrition and agricultural development.

Many of the countries represented here today have benefited directly from the global rinderpest eradication programme and the technical cooperation projects in which our two organizations and the Organization for Animal Health (OIE) have invested. And all countries across the globe have benefited from the fact that rinderpest is no longer posing a daily threat to people's livelihoods and the survival of millions of head of cattle and wildlife.

We need to learn from this success in leadership and cooperation to make inroads into other animal diseases that affect production or are threats to human health and food security. We have the means and commitment, and with the support of our Member States, we can continue to do great things. The basis for action established during the rinderpest campaign should be used to address other animal and human health threats.

FAO's efforts in rinderpest control date from its creation in 1945. Starting in the early 1990s, FAO oversaw the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme, working in close collaboration with partners such as the IAEA, the World Organisation for Animal Health, governments, NGOs and regional institutions such as the African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources. The global efforts leveraged regional programmes to convene people, countries, institutions and donors - resulting in a winning combination of technical excellence, partnerships and collaboration.

In fact, FAO and partners fostered the concept of coordinated regional programs, such as the Somali Ecosystem Rinderpest Coordination Unit, where the rinderpest virus was last reported in circulation. The programme also relied on the contributions of veterinary services, laboratories, researchers and donors1/. The support of all partners and donors was indispensable to our success.

The Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme worked closely with the joint FAO/IAEA Division in Vienna2/. Critical to our success was the availability of tested and proven diagnostic and surveillance tools, access to effective heat-stable rinderpest vaccine developed by the Joint Divsion. I would like to take this opportunity to particularly recognize the rinderpest world reference laboratory (in the United Kingdom) and CIRAD- (France), the United States Department of Agriculture and Tufts University among many others.

As an international community, we've learned some important institutional and operational lessons from the eradication of rinderpest. Open dialogue, good co-ordination and trust between partners - these were all indispensable to the success we celebrate today. These partnerships translated into networks of experts and country clusters working toward the same goal. The partnerships with countries, scientists, individual community leaders, and that of donors, were key to this success. FAO could never have done this alone.

Now that rinderpest has been eradicated, the fight is over but not the war. Our top priority is now rinderpest sequestration and the safekeeping of rinderpest viruses to prevent possible escape or re-emergence of the disease. The Joint FAO/IAEA Division laboratory at Seibersdorf would be an indispensable source of knowledge and expertise for sequestration and safekeeping.

The need remains for investments to ensure that laboratories holding the virus keep it safe or destroy it; that generations of veterinarians have the knowledge to recognise rinderpest and act accordingly should they encounter an unexpected outbreak; that laboratories have the capability to test for suspect cases; that governments and industry have contingency plans should rinderpest or other high impact livestock disease threaten livelihoods. In fact, what we learned during the rinderpest campaign now serves as a basis to tackle other livestock diseases, such as the Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR).

FAO and OIE thus ask IAEA Member States for their continued support3/.

In closing, I would also like to acknowledge the remarkable commitment of all those countries who took action, invested and involved their institutions and communities in the eradication programmes.

FAO, working in partnership, will continue to ensure that the success achieved through collective efforts to eradicate rinderpest will result in lasting benefit to all.

1/ European Union, United States of America, Japan, Italy, Sweden, Ireland, France, United Kingdom and others.
2/ Initially, the programme provided technical guidance, surveillance, capacity building to better understand the nature of the disease and the actions needed to contain the virus, eliminate reservoirs of infection, and establish disease-surveillance networks and regional networks for diagnostic laboratories. The programme worked with countries to involve communities and adapt participatory rural appraisals to hunt for remaining areas of infection and identify ways to prove absence of the disease.
3/ Investment into rinderpest eradication over the period spanning the 1980s until now has been roughly USD 45 million from FAO and USD 20 million from IAEA. International support was critical and in most cases catalytic as the countries themselves invested some USD 3.5 billion globally and around USD 1.2 billion in South Saharan Africa alone to ensure that today we have a world free from rinderpest.