Rinderpest is an ancient viral disease that used to kill massive numbers of cattle in Africa, Asia, and Europe. In the late 19th century, a rinderpest epidemic wiped out an estimated 90 percent of Ethiopia's cattle and, as a result, approximately one-third of the human population died.
A vaccine developed in the 1960s eliminated the disease from much of the world. But the vaccine had to be kept cold. Researchers at Tufts University developed a heat-stable version that went into use in the 1990s.
"And that new vaccine meant we could access more difficult areas that were the final hotspots of rinderpest," says Andrew Catley, research director at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts.
Catley says veterinarians from Tufts and the Ethiopian government trained cattle herders in remote, rural areas to give the vaccine to their livestock.
"And that meant that the coverage dramatically improved, and the vaccination efficiency improved, and within a couple of years the Ethiopian teams were able to eradicate the disease," he says.
Ethiopia, Somalia and eastern Kenya are expected to be the final hotspots of rinderpest. The disease was officially declared eradicated in Ethiopia on July 25. The virus has not been confirmed in cattle elsewhere in the region for several years, but health authorities are requiring stronger systems to detect the disease before declaring it fully eliminated. If the effort is successful, rinderpest will be the only disease besides smallpox ever to be fully eradicated.