Written for CENTAUR Global Network

                                                                                                                                  Prague, 3 October 2011



V. Kouba

Honorary Member of the CENTAUR International Advisory Board

Former Chief, Animal Health Service, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations



The rinderpest recurred throughout history causing hundreds of millions of animal deaths. The rinderpest has been registered in 114 countries of all continents, causing enormous economic losses. After the World War II the rinderpest was reported still from 66 countries. The largest and longest international anti-epizootic global programme against  the most dangerous animal disease has been successfully completed before the end of 2010. Specific vaccination was finished in 2006 and during following surveys it had been no evidence of the existence of this infection in the nature. The initial programmes at local and national levels were gradually extended. In 1986 FAO Animal Health Service started global rinderpest eradication programme fixing the deadline and merging newly established regional projects in Africa, West Asia and South Asia. The main method consisted in: active discovery of all outbreaks, immediate isolation of affected places followed by sanitary slaughter and disposal of all sick and suspect animals, thorough sanitation of infected environment and by a prolonged period of post-eradication serological surveillance. More than 3 billion vaccinations of  threatened populations played extraordinary protection role. Rinderpest is the first animal infection eradicated globally and not only in the susceptible species of domestic but also wild animals. The eradication of rinderpest in all the world  has proved for the first time the feasibility of  final  global  eradication of selected animal infection.  This eradication to be understood as the start of a  n e w   e r a  of veterinary medicine consisting in removing gradually the most dangerous killing animal diseases from our planet as the highest meta. Rinderpest worldwide eradication is the best result in the history of veterinary medicine.


The rinderpest (caused by a Morbillivirus) initial symptoms included high fever, loss of appetite,  nasal and eye discharges following by haemorrhagic erosions in the mouth and by acute haemorrhagic diarrhoea.  Most animals died 6–12 days after the onset of  clinical symptoms.   It was mainly spread by direct contact, contaminated water and by infected animals’ movement. Due to extreme lethality the rinderpest has been included among biological weapons.

Fig. 1 Herd of cattle dead due to rinderpest (World Animal Review, Special Issue – Rinderpest, 1983, FAO)

The rinderpest recurred throughout history.  It caused hundreds of millions of animal deaths that preceded famines in Africa and Asia. It is believed to have originated in Asia. By around 3 000 BC it reached Egypt, and later spread throughout the remainder of Africa. The rinderpest hit Europe  hard in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the beginning of the 20th century, the disease occurred widely in Africa, Asia and Europe and was responsible for the death of many millions of cattle, buffalo and wildlife species, and for the loss of people’s assets, livelihoods and ability to fend off famines.

Fig. 2. Rinderpest – haemorrhagic erosions on the inner surface of the lower and upper lips, the gums and on the surface of the tongue, Saudi Arabia, 1981 (photo V. Kouba)

Fig. 3. Rinderpest – haemorrhagic diarrhoea, Mongolia, 1964 (photo V. Kouba)

Fig. 4. Rinderpest – haemorrhages in the small intestine, Mongolia, 1964 (photo V. Kouba)

Fig.  5. Rinderpest – haemorrhages in the gallbladder, Mongolia, 1964 (photo V. Kouba)


The catastrophic consequences of the rinderpest caused in 18th century  the foundation of the veterinary profession, in 19th century the establishment of public veterinary services and in 1924 the foundation of the International Office of Epizootics (OIE). The rinderpest was historically registered in 114 countries of all continents. Its eradication was one of the main objectives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) when it was established in 1945. The  g l o b a l  rinderpest eradication programme started in 1986 and ended in 2010 (including very long  surveillance period) when the FAO announced that it was confident the disease had been eradicated and declared the end of field operations of this programme.

Fig. 6. Rinderpest – map of all countries affected (V. Kouba according to OIE WAHID 2009 data)

In June 2011, FAO Conference, the highest body of the United Nations agency, officially recognized global freedom from this deadly cattle virus adopting a resolution declaring the eradication of rinderpest (“FAO Declaration on Global Freedom from Rinderpest”). The author was attending this historical moment being invited as former Chief, Animal Health Service, FAO  when he was responsible for global rinderpest eradication programme and its results. This invitation and message that "FAO highly values your contribution towards the eradication of rinderpest”  represent the impulse to write this paper to acquaint the reader with some aspects of this historical achievement.



The main source of data for this paper was represented by the documents of FAO Animal Health Service (AGAH)  responsible for executing worldwide assistance to member country governments’  animal health programmes, including control/eradication of rinderpest as the priority disease.  The protocols from AGAH meetings, international negotiations and expert consultations related to the rinderpest were for this paper of  key importance. Other sources were found in the yearbooks on animal disease worldwide occurrence as published in the FAO/WHO/OIE Animal Health Yearbook and in the OIE World Animal Health as well as the data of the OIE World Animal Health Information Database (OIE 2010). Other FAO and OIE specific publications on rinderpest (FAO 1996, 1998, 2011, OIE 2011) were of particular importance.


The author as the Editor-in-Chief during 1978-1984 and 1987 was regularly evaluating in the FAO/WHO/OIE Animal Health Yearbook rinderpest global epizootiological changes and  introduced detailed reports on “Pan African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC), Organization of African Unity (OAU), Nairobi, Kenya” and on “West Asia Rinderpest Eradication Campaign Coordination (WARECC)”.


The papers published by FAO-AGAH-EMPRES (Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases) in 2011 in a special issue of its Bulletin on rinderpest global eradication (Slingenberg; Chibeu and El-Sawalhy; Kamata; Mathur; Njeumi and Roeder; Sasaki, Rajasekhar, Raja and Hussain) represented important information as well.


Personal information of  AGAH virologists in charge of the anti-rinderpest programmes, e.g. Dr. Y. Ozawa and Dr. K. J. Wojciechowski,  was also taken into account. Finally, there was considered author’ personal experience from solving rinderpest problems (Kouba, 2003, 2010 and 2011) when he was as the Chief, Animal Health Service, FAO responsible for global anti-rinderpest programme implementation and its results.



The development of rinderpest control  methods had a long history. More or less passive approach lasted up to 18th century when stamping out and cattle movement control were started. During the first decades of 20th century these methods were combined with using rinderpest  serum to limit spread of outbreaks. After the World War II the serum was replaced by anti-rinderpest vaccine.

The basic control activity was to identify the territories with the rinderpest occurrence, i.e. affected localities/herds – outbreaks, zones under direct specific risk, zones under indirect specific risk, the limits of territories free of clinical cases of rinderpest and limits of territories free of rinderpest virus. This required extensive serological monitoring in domestic and wild animals of rinderpest susceptibles species.


The Joint FAO-IAEA Division on Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture was  instrumental in introducing and expanding diagnostic capabilities in developing countries, with initial emphasis on rinderpest diagnosis and on Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) as the appropriate technology. The range of diagnostic technology was expanded, especially into Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) techniques for detection and characterisation of pathogens.


Radical methods consisted in sanitary slaughtering all specifically diseased and suspected animals as well as animal-contacts. Very strict quarantine of infected sites and surrounding zones was supplemented with perifocal  and territorial vaccination in the areas under specific risk. (e.g. along borders between affected and non-affected territories/countries).  Extraordinary role had mass vaccination using an attenuated tissue culture vaccine developed by W. Plowright (1962).


According to  J. Otte et al. (2011) the number of specific vaccinations during 1950s -1990s reached 3 billion: West and Central Africa – 0.47 billion; East Africa – 0.39 billion; West Asia and Near East – 0.28 billion; South Asia – 1.81 billion; East and Southeast Asia – 0.05 billion). Maximum vaccinations were carried out during the 1980s.

Control and eradication of rinderpest represented a very complex and difficult to solve problems being multiplied by the fact that every case was different under different conditions requiring different practical application of established anti-rinderpest principles.

It must be considered not only the rinderpest occurrence, its territorial localization, stage of development but also size, structure and distribution of domestic and wild animal populations of susceptible species. It must be considered veterinary service organization and its ability of anti-epizootic actions. It must be considered influencing factors such as ecological, economic, social and political conditions as well as public, government and donors’ supports. In some country political instability or even war complicated anti-rinderpest programme. The grade of the demandingness was multiplied by the fact that the time-bound programme required to reach the eradication prior to the deadline what was much more difficult than before without fixed global final term.

The extremely complex and demanding rinderpest eradication programmes, had different work/resources/time consuming phases: rinderpest etiology and epizootiology research and its results testing; field investigations to identify all outbreaks and threatened territories;  identification of control/eradication strategy, tactics and methodology (incl. diagnosis system based on laboratory investigations); specific vaccine production and control; creation of necessary conditions (manpower, material, transport, funds incl. subsidies; logistics; public, legislation and political support, etc.); identification of specific objectives (incl. deadlines); attraction of donors; clearance procedures; starting phase; intensive attack phase combined with protective measures including vaccination; elimination phase, eradication phase and post-eradication phase under continuing surveillance verifying freedom from rinderpest and systematic evaluations. All these interconnected phases depending on the results of the previous ones were demanding but very important.

Complex system approach when applying action-oriented epizootiological principles (described e.g. in http://vaclavkouba.byl.cz/epiztextbook.htm) was of extraordinary importance.

Anti-rinderpest international programmes

FAO in 1946 started the programme to assist in the harmonization of efforts to contain high impact livestock diseases. Rinderpest was at the top of the list and ever since then has continued to be one of central elements of the activities and programmes of the Organization. Initially the eradication efforts largely took place on an individual country basis, using mass vaccinations.


Major campaigns in Asia throughout the 1960s brought the disease largely under control. At the beginning of the 1960s, a programme called JP 15 (Joint Campaign against Rinderpest in Africa) attempted to vaccinate all cattle in participating countries. This programme brought significant improvements in the years 1962-1976. However,  its premature termination (due to economic reasons) led to a flare and spread of this infection from the residual “pockets” to the north up to Egypt, to the west up to Senegal, to the east up to Djibouti and to the south up to Zambia. In Asia the rinderpest spread to the west up to Turkey. The alarming situation required new impulse to restore previous achievements and to start regional and global anti-rinderpest programmes.


Internationally organized FAO  g l o b a l  rinderpest eradication programme started in 1986 based on creating and merging three regional projects technically backstopped by the AGAH,:  The Pan African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC)”– (FAO Project GCP/RAF/218/JPN), “The South Asia Rinderpest Eradication Campaign (SAREC)“ - (FAO Project RAS/86/023) and “The West Asia Rinderpest Eradication Campaign Coordination (WARECC)” - (FAO Project RAB/86/024) including existing and new national programmes. It was started a frontal assault against rinderpest in the affected countries and regions. That time the AGAH, after rinderpest global situation analysis and its estimated prognosis, set the deadline – “horizon 2010”. Time-bound strategy gave a new important impulse to global rinderpest eradication campaign at all levels conducing to the intensification of control/eradication (attack phases) measures aiming at the final objective.

The programme required close collaboration with global and regional partners such as: International Office of Epizootics (OIE) *), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) **), African Union’s Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR) etc. as well as with funding agencies such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), European Union (EU), several donors’ country, international banks etc.. The collaboration with relevant international rinderpest research reference laboratories (first of all the Institute for Animal Health, Pirbright Laboratory, United Kingdom) was of particular importance.

*) International animal health information system, standards for diagnostic tests and vaccines, rinderpest surveillance system – pathway, etc.

**) Rinderpest laboratory diagnostic.

Fig. 7. Rinderpest –  map of global eradication programme in 1986 (FAO archive)

From 1994 the global rinderpest eradication programme was using pro forma the abbreviation “GREP” and began further intensification of  much better funded  final phase in the remaining rinderpest countries reaching successfully the objectives, i.e. global eradication.

Potential donors are usually much more generous when the programme promises final success very soon.

Global campaign required to link local programmes with national ones, national programmes with regional ones and these to link with the global one under the FAO leadership, responsibility, central coordination combined with concrete assistance, including AGAH field practical projects, to rinderpest and rinderpest-threatened countries. Member country governments required deeds not words (Acta no verba), i.e. final results.

Provided anti-rinderpest actions by the FAO Animal Health Service consisted in global initiative, organization, management, international coordination, gaining necessary external support  and also in technical assistance to member countries. This usually consisted,  after becoming familiar with the specific situation and influencing conditions, in various activities: identification of rinderpest situation and forecast of its trend; identification of infected territories (populations) and threatened territories; elaboration of anti-rinderpest contingency plans, strategy, tactics, specific protective, control/eradication measures and surveillance (e.g., large-scale serological monitoring for rinderpest situation identification, post-eradication control and confirmation rinderpest-free status); provision of methodologies (incl. manuals); assisting in rinderpest diagnosis (establishing and strengthening diagnostic laboratories including equipment and international experts); production and control of anti-rinderpest vaccines as well as cold chain establishment; specific training, information and control/evaluation system; advising on anti-rinderpest legislation; strengthening of veterinary services organization etc..

According to available data (OIE-WAHID 2010) the first country reporting last case of  the rinderpest was Sweden in 1700.

First major global impulse was given in 1985 (remaining 39 rinderpest countries) by identifying final deadline (2010) and  in 1986 by starting  g l o b a l  rinderpest eradication programme merging three new regional ones. Second major impulse was given in 1994 (remaining 19 rinderpest countries) by AGAH/EMPRES. Numbers of countries reporting last case of rinderpest in individual decades were as follows: during the 1940s – 5, during the 1950s – 5, during the 1960s – 7, during the 1970s – 3, during the 1980s – 26, during the 1990s – 18 and during the 2010s – 2 and thus finalizing successfully the global eradication process as the major achievement in veterinary history.

According to the number of countries reporting last case of rinderpest it can be noted that during 1960-2010 there were two major “waves”. The first was between 1986 and 1993 when last cases were reported by 17 countries.  The second wave was between 1994 and 2003 when last cases were reported by the remaining 18 countries finalizing the programmes started in previous periods.


Fig. 8. Rinderpest –  graph on number of  countries officially reporting last cases of rinderpest  during 1963-2003 (V. Kouba according to OIE WAHID 2009 data)

The  last evidence for rinderpest virus circulation dates to 2003 in the Somali ecosystem in Kenya. The final vaccinations were administered in 2006, and the last targeting surveillance operations took place in 2009, failing to find any evidence of the disease. The field operations ended in 2010.



Thirty-seventh Session of FAO Conference in Rome on 28 June 2011 adopted  the Resolution containing the “Declaration on Global Freedom from Rinderpest and on the Implementation of Follow-up Measures to Maintain World Freedom from Rinderpest. The Declaration was based on detailed evidence  provided by all countries and territories that the world had attained freedom from rinderpest. Substantial disease search and widespread serological surveillance throughout Asia, Africa and Middle East had been conducted without any evidence of virus circulation. This information had been verified by the OIE and  by the Joint FAO/OIE Committee on Global Rinderpest Eradication recognizing the world as free from rinderpest virus circulation, and identifying technical follow-up steps of virus sequestration and safe management of remaining virus stocks.

The resolution also called on the world community to follow up by ensuring that samples of rinderpest viruses and vaccines be kept under safe laboratory conditions and that rigorous standards for disease surveillance and reporting be applied. Stocks of the rinderpest virus will be maintained only by internationally selected highly specialized laboratories.

The resolution also required that with the cessation of field rinderpest eradication operations, programme attention to be redirected to maintain worldwide freedom from rinderpest, through safe custodianship and destruction of remaining stocks of vaccines or virus samples that may be held at research or diagnostic facilities. The resolution required also to develop a post-eradication strategy so as to consolidate success of eradication taking into accunt that the presence of virulent or attenuated rinderpest virus in laboratories constitutes a potential threat to the global disease-free status.

This extraordinary achievement would not have been possible without the joint efforts and strong commitments of governments, the relevant organizations in Africa, Asia and Europe, and without the continuous support of donors and international institutions.

The eradication of rinderpest in the world was first of all professional merit of incalculable number of veterinarians and their supportive staff at all levels headed by National Chief Veterinary Officers of the affected and threatened countries being supported by broad network of partners, several international organizations and financial sponsors. The global anti-rinderpest campaign structure involved incalculable number of participating persons and institutions at all levels creating a global organization pyramid with the FAO Animal Health Service on top of it.

Global rinderpest eradication programme principal role of initiator, promoter, organizer, co-ordinator, manager, facilitator and executor of concrete assistance to Member States with the responsibility for the worldwide results primarily played FAO Animal Health Service. It was headed  during last five decades (1961-2011) by following Chiefs: Dr. Ervin Eichorn (USA), Dr. Reg Barn Griffiths (Great Britain), Dr. Yoshihiro Ozawa (Japan), Dr. Václav Kouba (Czechoslovakia), Dr. Yves Cheneau (France), Dr. Maurice Joseph Domenech (France) and Dr. Juan Lubroth (USA). Each of them was responsible for the anti-rinderpest global programme during a particular period. Special responsibilities within the FAO Animal Health Service had the virologists of the Infection Diseases Group and from 1994 of the EMPRES unit.

Note: The data  for global historical cost/benefit analysis are not available. The overall  cost of the rinderpest eradication  campaign during centuries could be estimated only very very roughly (with a large question mark!): to be more than 50 billion USD?



Having accumulated sufficient international experience with global eradication of the most important animal disease, time has come to continue without any interruption in this international policy representing a  n e w   e r a  of veterinary medicine –   era of global veterinary medicine gradually “cleaning” our planet from the most important killing animal infections. It can be  continued with planning of global eradication of one or two infections-killers meeting similar criteria as the rinderpest, e.g. of zoonotic glanders in a shorter term – 2025 (?) commonly with WHO and of foot and mouth disease in a longer term - 2050 (?).

Fig. 9.  FAO badge commemorating rinderpest global eradication

This historic achievement of the global eradication of rinderpest ranked as the second in history after the global eradication of smallpox in humans in 1980. Rinderpest is the first animal infection eradicated globally not only in the susceptible species of domestic but also wild animals. Huge damage that rinderpest has done in the past will not be repeated. It is a great contribution to global development and production of animal species susceptible to rinderpest, to international trade and to developing countries’ livestock economy and poverty reduction. The global eradication of the rinderpest represents the major achievement in the history of veterinary medicine.



1.  FAO 1996: The World Without Rinderpest. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 129, Rome, 173 pp

2.  FAO 1998: Rinderpest: The challenge ahead. FAO Technical Consultation on the global rinderpest eradication Programme. Rome, 201 pp

 3. FAO  2011: Freedom from the World No. 1 Cattle Plague – Rinderpest. EMPRES Bulletin, No. 38, 71 pp

4.  FAO 2011:  The FAO Declaration on Global Freedom from Rinderpest. Adopted by 37th FAO Conference Plenary Session, Rome, 28 June 2011

5.  FAO/OIE 2011: Joint FAO/OIE Committee on Global Rinderpest Eradication final report. FAO EMPRES Bulletin, No. 38: 12-17

6.  CHIBEU, D..M., EL-SAWALHY, A. 2011: Rinderpest eradication in Africa. FAO EMPRES Bulletin, No. 38: 21-25

7.  KAMATA, A. 2011: Rinderpest in East and Southeast Asia. FAO EMPRES Bulletin, No. 38: 41-429

8.  KOUBA, V. 2003: Occurrence and eradication of rinderpest in Africa and Asia. Agricultura Tropica et subtropica, Universitas Agriculturae Praga, Vol.  36, 2003: 42-45

9. KOUBA, V. 2010: Contribution to global eradication of rinderpest. Available (on line) from http://vaclavkouba.byl.cz/rp_actions3.htm (accessed 1 December 2010).

10.  KOUBA, V. 2011: Peste bovina - la primera infección animal erradicada en todo el mundo. Revista Electrónica de Veterinaria, Vol.12, No 4, Abril 2011. Available (on line) from http://www.veterinaria.org/revistas/redvet/n040411/041104.pdf  (accessed 1 May 2011)


11.  KOUBA, V. 2011: Mor skotu – první animální infekce vymýcená na celém světě. (Rinderpest – first animal infection eradicated worldwide). In Czech. Veterinářství, 5, 2011: 289-292

12. LUBROTH, J. 2011: Rinderpest’s final days. FAO Document. Available (on line) from http://www.fao.org/ag/grep.html (accessed 20 June 2011)

13. MATHUR, S.C. 2011: The West Asia Rinderpest Eradication Campaign. FAO EMPRES Bulletin, No. 38: 26-31

14. NJEUMI, F., ROEDER, P.L 2011: The Role of  FAO in the eradication of rinderpest. FAO EMPRES Bulletin, No. 38: 5-11

15. OIE 2010: World Animal Health Information Database (WAHID), Paris

16. OTTE, J., RICH, K., ROLAND-HOST, D. 2011: Socio-Economic Impact and Cost-Benefit of Rinderpest Eradication. Symposium on Rinderpest Eradication, FAO, Rome, 27 June 2011

17. PLOWRIGHT, W., FERRIS, R.D. 1962: Studies with rinderpest virus in tissue culture. The use of attenuated culture virus as vaccine for cattle. Res. Vet. Sci. 3: 172-182

18. SASAKI, M., RAJASEKHAR, M., RAJA, R.H., HUSSAIN, M. 2011:  Global rinderpest eradication and the South Asia Rinderpest Eradication Campaign. FAO EMPRES Bulletin, No. 38: 32-40

19. SLINGENBERGH, J. 2011: The Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme as the spearhead for EMPRES. FAO EMPRES Bulletin, No. 38: 2-4




List  of countries affected by rinderpest and years of reporting last cases (OIE World Animal Health Information Database - WAHID 2010)


Africa: Angola (1962), Benin (1987), Botswana (1899), Burkina Faso (1988), Burundi (1934), Cameroon (1986), Central African Republic (1983), Chad (1984), Congo (1986), Cote d’Ivoire (1986), Djibuti (1985), Egypt (1987), Eritrea (1995), Ethiopia (1995), Gambia (1965), Ghana (1988), Guinea (1967), Guinea Bissau (1967), Kenya (2003), Lesotho (1886), Libya (1966), Mali (1986), Mauritania (2003), Mozambique (1896), Namibia (1907), Niger (1986), Nigeria (1987),  Reunion (1902), Ruanda (1932), Senegal (1978), Somalia (1983), South Africa (1904),  Sudan (1998), Swaziland (1898), Tanzania (1997), Togo (1986), Uganda (1994), Zambia (1896), Zimbabwe (1898).

Americas: Bermuda, Brazil (1921).

Asia: Afghanistan (1995), Armenia (1928), Azerbaijan (1929), Bahrain (1985), Bangladesh (1958), Bhutan (1969), Brunei (1950), Cambodia (1986), China (1955), Hong-kong (1950), India (1995), Indonesia (1907), Iran (1994), Irak (1996), Izrael (1983), Kuwait (1985), Japan (1924), Jordan (1972), Kazakhstan (1928), Korea (1931), Korea-DPR (1948), Laos (1966), Lebanon (1982), Malayasia (1924), Mongolia (1992),  Myanmar (1957), Nepal (1990), Oman (1995), Pakistan (2000), Palestian Auton. Territories (1983), Philippines (1955), Qatar (1987), Saudi Arabia (1999), Singapur (1930), Sri Lanka (1994), Syria (1982), Taipei China (1949), Thailand (1959), Turkey (1996), United Arab Emirates (1995), Vietnam (1977), Yemen (1995).

Europe: Albania (1924), Austria (1881), Belgium (1920), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1883), Bulgaria (1913), Croatia (1883), Czech Republic (1881), Denmark (1782), Finland (1877), France (1870), Georgia (1989), Germany (1870), Greece (1926), Hungary (1881), Ireland (1866), Italy (1949), Latvia (1921), Netherlands  (1869), Poland (1921), Romania (1886), Russia (1998), Serbia and Montenegro (1883), Slovakia (1881), Slovenia (1883), Sweden (1700),  Switzerland (1871), U.K./Great Britain (1877), U.K. Northern Ireland (1900).

Oceania: Australia (1923).