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

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs