Live Science - 14 February 2017: Endangered Antelopes Face 'Catastrophic' Die-Off - over 2500 critically endangered Mongolian Saiga antelopes have been killed during an outbreak of the livestock virus Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR). While hunting has reduced the Saiga tatarica population from over one million to 10-50,000 within forty years, the virus - with up to 90% mortality rates in naïve populations - may wipe out the species altogether. This will indirectly impact on other species negatively, including the endangered snow leopard, one of the Saiga tatarica's predators.
PPR - also called sheep and goat plague - affects small ruminants, and was first described in 1942 in Côte d'Ivoire. Since then, it has spread across 70 African and Asian countries, with the latest outbreaks reported to the OIE - World Organisation for Animal Health, by Israel and Mongolia in early 2017. The high morbidity and mortality rates of the virus result in significant socio-economic losses, while reducing food security and destroying livelihoods of rural households. PPR losses disproportionally affect women, as they tend to be responsible for small livestock rearing and product marketing. As people start looking for alternative livelihoods, the affects of the disease indirectly causes migration and conflict over resources. Annual global economic losses are estimated between US$1.4 and US$2.1 billion.
The PPR Global Control and Eradication Strategy, developed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and OIE, was endorsed by high-level authorities and Chief Veterinary Officers from 70 countries in 2015. The strategy - which aims to eradicate the disease by 2030 - builds on the specific characteristics of the PPR virus, which makes it a viable disease for eradication: the disease is caused by only one serotype, there is no carrier nor sustainable reservoir outside domestic small ruminants; a single dose vaccine for life-long immunity is available and inexpensive to produce; effective diagnostic assays for serological monitoring of virus circulation and vaccination programmes are available. Previous diseases eradicated with comparable characteristics are Rinderpest - cattle plague, a disease affecting cloven- hoofed animals (declared eradicated in 2011), and the human virus smallpox (1980).
In 2016 FAO and OIE, which established the Joint PPR Global Secretariat, presented the first five year plan for the PPR Global Eradication Programme (2017-2021), based on four stages: assessment, control, eradication and maintenance of PPR-free status of non-affected countries. Considering the transboundary nature of animal diseases, nine PPR regional roadmaps were developed. In the first five years of the eradication campaign, focus will be on reinforcing veterinary capacities, supporting diagnostic and surveillance systems, supporting vaccination and control measures, and enhancing coordination and management at all levels.
While control and eradication efforts have been implemented for over a decade as part of regional pastoral support programmes in West Africa, resilience support in the Horn of Africa, and PPR control programmes in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, the virus persists throughout Africa and Asia, in particular in areas where no, or limited, control activities have been implemented so far. In 2016 alone, Algeria, Georgia, the Maldives, Mongolia and Tunisia reported outbreaks. The PPR strategy and its planned activities can only move forward with the required support and buy-in from governments, veterinary services and rural communities. Regional and cross-border cooperation and coordination is key, in particular when implementing vaccination programmes.
While there is limited financial aid available for (global) livestock disease control, particularly with so many other current pressing humanitarian and development issues competing for funding, diseases such as PPR have wider implications to poverty, security and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The importance of support for the eradication programme should not be underestimated, as prevalence rates and early PRR eradication results show. It is high time to move protecting livestock and wildlife alike against the devastating impacts of PPR up the agenda.