Ethiopian Government Celebrates Rinderpest Eradication

Tufts University researchers instrumental in vaccine production and delivery
July 21, 2009

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BOSTON- A menace to the African cattle population for more than a century, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has declared rinderpest eradicated in Ethiopia. Ethiopia, which grappled with the cattle-killing disease that threatened its food supply and its economy for decades, is celebrating the eradication on Saturday July 25, 2009.

A team from Tufts University’s Feinstein International Center (FIC) and the Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) will participate in the celebration. Jeffrey Mariner, DVM, research associate professor in the Department of Public Health and Family Medicine at TUSM, repurposed a rinderpest vaccine that could be transported to rural areas without refrigeration. Delivery of the previous vaccine was problematic due to heat sensitivity. FIC’s Berhanu Admassu, DVM, MSc and Darlington Akabwai, DVM, assisted the Ethiopian government with distribution barriers by developing novel community-based approaches to vaccination. Eradication of rinderpest in Ethiopia is especially crucial because the country has the largest cattle population in Africa.

"Most of the veterinarians working in East Africa are based in cities and towns and do not often travel to remote regions where nomadic communities are highly dependent on cattle and other livestock – that’s why the community-based approaches supported by Tufts were so important," said Andy Catley, PhD, a research director at FIC.

Community participation involved training pastoral livestock owners living in remote, marginalized areas of Ethiopia as community-based animal health workers (CAHWs). Most could not read or write, but mastered the cattle vaccination process by attending special training courses in the field, designed by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD) and Tufts veterinarians. The CAHWs cared for cattle on a daily basis and provided invaluable insight into the history of the disease in Ethiopia.  The CAHWs also demonstrated for Ethiopian government workers and the Tufts veterinarians their indigenous knowledge on rinderpest symptoms and patterns of transmission. Their ability to monitor for flare-ups following the vaccinations was crucial to conquering rinderpest.

Similar tactics were used to eradicate rinderpest in other African countries including Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya. Rinderpest surfaced in Africa in colonial times, initially killing up to 90 percent of the cattle population in Ethiopia, where an estimated one-third of the human population starved to death. In the years that followed, periodic epidemics severely damaged the food supply and the economy.

A vaccine commonly known as the Plowright vaccine could have wiped out rinderpest following its development in the 1960s. Yet, without constant refrigeration at freezing temperatures from the point of production until it is administered to cattle, the vaccine is ineffective.

"It was extremely challenging to keep the vaccine cold while traveling to isolated areas," said Catley. "It required refrigeration facilities, ice machines, cold boxes and fleets of vehicles. They needed an easier way to deliver the vaccine."

By 1990, three years after graduating from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, Mariner developed a solution using the Plowright vaccine, which he repurposed as a heat-stable vaccine that didn’t need to be kept cold, clearing the way for transportation to rural areas.

"Eradication of rinderpest is an incredible turning point for East Africa," said Peter Walker, PhD, director of FIC and the Irwin H. Rosenberg Professor of Nutrition and Human Security at The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. "It alleviates food insecurity and strengthens the economy, and is a step towards meat exports. Ultimately, we hope the eradication will result in a larger and healthier cattle population and we’ll see fewer of the violent cattle rustling raids that plague the region."

Material from the following publication was used to write this news release:

Mariner, Jeffrey, Roeder, Peter and Admassu, Berhanu. “Community participation and the global eradication of rinderpest. Participatory Learning and Action Notes 45 (October 2002): 29-33.

The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school's eight degree programs which focus on questions relating to famine, hunger, poverty, and communications, are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy. For two decades, the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has studied the relationship between good nutrition and good health in aging populations. Tufts research scientists work with federal agencies to establish the USDA Dietary Guidelines, the Dietary Reference Intakes, and other significant public policies.