The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that the Peste des petits Ruminants (PPR) disease, also known as sheep and goat plague, threatens 80 per cent of the world’s ruminants.
The PPR, a highly contagious animal disease affecting domestic and wild small ruminants, was first identified in Côte d’Ivoire in the 1940s. It has spread over the last 15 years to more than 70 countries – mostly in Asia, Africa and Middle East.
At its worst, the disease threatens to infect up to 80 per cent of the world’s 2.5 billion small ruminants if not controlled, putting enormous pressure on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
PPR can be deadly for animals – with a 30-70 percent fatality rate, it does not infect humans, but can affect their food security and means of livelihoods.
There are, however, positive signs that the impact of vaccination campaigns has reduced the spread of the PPR disease by two-thirds in recent years.
The FAO says the vaccination, which is funded by countries with support from FAO and partners, has been ongoing in 50 countries.
In just 12 of these countries, over 300 million goats and sheep were vaccinated between 2015 and 2018.
Two regions have been the worst hit by PPR, and reported the majority of outbreaks between 2015-2019 – Asia over 75 per cent and Africa over 24 percent, although the disease may also be underreported.
The FAO says nearly half of all outbreaks in this period occurred in only five countries, highlighting the urgent need for strengthening prevention and control mechanisms.
About 300 million families rely on small ruminants, such as sheep and goats, as a source of food and income, and are at risk of losing their livelihoods if the disease is not kept at bay. It is also estimated that PPR causes economic losses up to $2.1 billion per year.
Although it was first considered as a rinderpest-like disease of small domestic ruminants, in the recent past, PPR has also infected camels, cattle, water buffalo and a range of wildlife species – from the African buffalo to the saiga antelope in Asia.
In 2015, the international community set the goal of eradicating PPR by 2030, and, since then, FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) have developed and implemented a Global PPR Control and Eradication Strategy.
“Eradicating the disease is possible and essential to ending poverty and hunger. Not only would it save a valuable source of food and income for many vulnerable people but could also prevent entire families from migrating – a risk they face when their livelihoods are destroyed. A world free of PPR will also mean more security and empowerment for rural women as they are often responsible for looking after livestock,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General.
As of May 2020 (latest data available), 58 countries and one region in Namibia have been recognised as free of PPR – with Russia and Lesotho the latest countries added to the list last year. In addition, 21 countries, which have had no new cases for five consecutive years, can prepare their documentation for validation by OIE for a PPR-free status.
To reach PPR-free status, countries go through a thorough four-stage process (assessment, control, eradication, and post-eradication) supported by FAO and OIE.
Vaccination is essential for PPR prevention and control based on experience from the successful global eradication of rinderpest in 2011 by FAO, OIE and their partners, and the availability of effective PPR vaccines.
FAO and OIE recommend that PPR vaccination should be rolled out during two successive years, followed by vaccination of newborn animals during one or two successive years.