|A formal announcement is expected in 2011 but the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said it is "confident" the disease has been eliminated in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, the areas where it was prevalent, and is suspending its efforts to track and eliminate the disease.
It is the first time an animal disease has been eradicated in the wild and only the second virus to be wiped out after the eradication of smallpox 30 years ago. John Anderson, a scientist at the UK’s Institute of Animal Health (IAH)closely involved in the campaign hailed the success as "the biggest achievement of veterinary history".
"There has never been such an important and devastating disease as rinderpest in livestock. We've known about it and its problems for a thousand years and we've got rid of it," Michael Baron of the IAH told BBC News.
"It's an enormously important achievement because it highlights what can be done by people working together," IAH's Baron said.
Rinderpest originated in Asia but spread worldwide, typically killing some 70% of the cattle and buffalo that contracted the disease. Loss of animals needed for ploughing and transportation as well as meat and milk devastated farming communities causing widespread starvation. The disease killed around a million head of cattle in Russia and central Europe in the mid-19th century. In Africa, an outbreak of the disease also in the 19th century killed millions of cattle and wild animals and resulted in a famine in Ethiopia in which one-third of the human population died.
"The control and elimination of rinderpest has always been a priority for (the FAO) since its early days in its mission to defeat hunger and strengthen global food security," FAO Director General Jacques Diouf said in Rome at a symposium to mark the end of its rinderpest programme.
British veterinary scientist Walter Plowright developed an effective vaccine in the 1960s but uncoordinated country efforts to tackle the disease failed to contain its transmission. The FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health launched a global eradication programme in 1994 building on improvements in the vaccine and use of diagnostic kits developed at the IAH and vaccinating animals in areas surrounding outbreaks of the disease.
Anderson, the head of the FAO’s Rinderpest World Reference Laboratory at IAH, urged that the experience of this campaign should be taken as a blueprint or "basic format" for tackling other veterinary diseases such as peste des petits ruminants (PPR) which affects sheep and goats.