In the battle of man against the deadly forces of nature, man can chalk up one more victory. In what is only the second time in history a deadly disease has been completely eradicated from the planet, that of the virus-caused disease known as rinderpest.
Although the disease does not cause illness in humans, it is a scourge for mankind none the less. With an 80% mortality rate, even more deadly than smallpox, the other disease mankind has wiped out; rinderpest has been killing cattle for thousands of years throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. The destruction of water buffalo, yaks, cattle and other animals meant the loss of meat, milk, cart-pulling and plowing,; devastating economies and the welfare of millions of people.
Rinderpest is related to the virus which causes measles, and its defeat is a milestone in the success of mankind against the uncertainties and dangers of the natural world.
“This is something the entire global community can be proud of” said Dr. William R. White, director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s foreign animal disease diagnostic laboratory on Plum Island, N.Y. “Rinderpest has caused almost unimaginable misery for a very long time.”
The very last case of rinderpest was observed in Kenya in 2001. Last Thursday, October 14 the United Nations announced that it had decided to discontinue its field surveillance of the disease because they are quite convinced this disease no longer exists on earth. There will be an official ceremony held in May in which the World Organization for Animal Health (The O.I.E., its initials in French) will declare that the world is now completely free from rinderpest. This organization was created in 1929 almost exclusively to fight rinderpest.
“This has been a remarkable achievement for veterinary science, evidence of the commitment of numerous countries” the Food and Agricultural Organization said in its statement.