Global Strategy to Fight Global Ruminant Pest Uses Nuclear Techniques

Nuclear techniques successfully used in the global eradication of rinderpest by 2011 will take centre stage in the elimination of a major small ruminant disease in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

A burden to over 300 million people worldwide, peste des petits ruminats (PPR) is a highly contagious, widely spread disease that kills thousands of sheep and goats per year and causes annual economic losses estimated at over US $1.4 billion. A global effort is now underway to eradicte PRR by 2030 using nuclear techniques through a Global Control and Eradication Strategy, or Global Strategy, for short. The Global Strategy is fashioned after the successful global eradication programme for rinderpest, a closely related virus to PPR, which was declared eradicated in 2011 with the help of nuclear techniques.

Under the Global Strategy, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the IAEA and their partners will work together to eliminate PPR, improving the livelihoods of people and economies in Africa, the Middle East and Asia that rely on sheep and goats, boosting food security in the process.

“One of the major constraints faced by those involved in the livestock sector is PPR,” said Berhe Tekola, Director of the FAO Animal Production and Health Division. “Nuclear techniques will be indispensable in eradication efforts, through the use of isotopic techniques in vaccine development and monitoring the spread of PPR.”

PPR is considered to be one of the most damaging livestock diseases in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The virus can spread through entire regions and cause a morbidity rate of up to 100 per cent and a mortality rate of up to 90 per cent in infected ruminants — sheep, goat and their relatives in the wild. In less severe cases, the virus can hamper the development of young ruminants and weaken the immune defences in adults. First reported in 1942, PPR has since spread to over 70 countries and 50 others are considered at risk, according to the FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health, which estimates global economic losses at over $US 1.4 billion.

Originally thought to be the same as the rinderpest disease — a Morbillivirus that affects cattle, domestic buffalo, and other even-toed, hoofed mammals like large antelope and deer — PPR was identified as a distinct disease in 1986. Recognizing this important distinction allowed scientists to discover a specific clone of PPR that proved to be a safe candidate for a PPR vaccine.

Learning from differences

Though the diseases are distinctly different, their shared characteristics and behaviour have made the experiences from the successful eradication programme for rinderpest a very effective starting point for the Global Strategy, said Gerrit Viljoen, Head of the Animal Production and Health Section at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. The Global Strategy adapts key components of the rinderpest programme to addressing PPR, including, among others, the nuclear-related diagnostic and monitoring techniques, the technical and scientific laboratory networks and services for monitoring and diagnosing animal diseases and for developing control tools, as well as national, regional and international coordination mechanisms.

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