News / Africa

Pastoralists Played Major Role in Ending Rinderpest

Afar community animal health worker describing the appearance and characteristics of rinderpest in cattle. (Credit: Jeffrey Mariner)
Afar community animal health worker describing the appearance and characteristics of rinderpest in cattle. (Credit: Jeffrey Mariner)
Joe DeCapua
In June 2011, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization officially declared that the deadly animal disease rinderpest had been eradicated. The disease devastated livestock and lingered in Africa long after being eliminated in developed countries. But while a vaccine put a halt to rinderpest, eradication would not have occurred nearly as quickly without the help of nomadic herders.



Rinderpest was the first animal disease to be eliminated globally -- and only the second disease overall to be eradicated after smallpox.

“It’s a very severe disease. The name translated into English is cattle plague. The way that it actually appears is as a diarrheal disease where the animals essentially dehydrate and die in about the course of a week. And it can cause up to 90 percent death loss in herds,” said Jeffrey Mariner, a research scientist at International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi and inventor of the temperature-stable rinderpest vaccine.

Rinderpest had been around for centuries before Europeans inadvertently brought it Africa in 1887. Over the next decade it spread across much of the continent, causing many deaths from starvation in Ethiopia.

While there were several early vaccines, the key vaccine was developed in 1960 by Walter Plowright, who received the World Food Prize for his work.

Mariner said, “It was a phenomenal vaccine. It protected against all types of rinderpest. It protected for life for the animals with a single immunization. There was never any recorded adverse reaction. And that actually spurred a lot of attempts to eradicate the disease and one called JP15, which ultimately almost succeeded, but they just stopped a few years too soon.”

The only problem with the vaccine was that it had to be kept cold before use. Mariner and his colleagues began working on the heat stability of the vaccine in the late 80’s and solved the problem by 1990.

“We took that Plowright vaccine, that very good vaccine, whose only shortcoming was that it needed to be refrigerated, and we made it so it didn’t need refrigeration. It could be used in the field much more flexibly, and that allowed us to set up vaccination programs for places like South Sudan and these very remote areas in eastern Africa,” he said.

But Mariner and others realized it would take more than veterinary professionals to immunize all the animals at risk. So they went to local pastoralist communities. Mariner says formal government institutions did not reach remote rural areas.

“What we found when we went to work in those areas was that they had a very well-developed knowledge of animal health. They had names for all the major diseases, could describe them. They knew a lot about treatments, which medicines to use for which disease. There might be a lack of information on correct dosage and things. So we engaged in a process of learning from them about their knowledge systems - and then integrating certain Western medical concepts and training them how to vaccinate and how to deliver antibiotics, as well, for other problems,” he said.

He said since they couldn’t read or write, all instruction was done orally.

“What was very rewarding is just to see how much interest, you know, this was the most exciting thing that they could learn about for them because they are cattle-dependent people. So they paid very close attention. Mixing up a vaccine and following all the rules for its use, they were very much motivated to do that well and were very good students,” said Mariner.

So good, that they did just as well or better than those from the veterinary services.

“They were essentially responsible for locating and eradicating the final outbreaks of rinderpest in East Africa. And it couldn’t have been done without them,” he said.

The same concept may be used to help eradicate what’s called small ruminant plague, which is closely related to rinderpest. However, it affects sheep and goats. Mariner says the vaccine for the plague has now been made so it too no longer needs refrigeration. What’s more, the pastoralist model may also be applied to rabies.

He said the success of the rinderpest eradication effort proved that African communities are more than able to take on such jobs.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs