Working together, the two organisations have asked member countries to comply with a global moratorium on research involving the use of the live rinderpest virus in laboratories. Samples of the potentially dangerous virus are said to be kept in more than 40 laboratories across the world, which the FAO and OIE said is often conducted under insufficient levels of biosecurity.
Rinderpest was officially declared eradicated by the OIE and FAO last year, meaning the virus - which is deadly to cattle - no longer circulates in animals and exists only in laboratories. When the virus was declared eradicated, the OIE and FAO member countries agreed to destroy all remaining stock, but research has shown that the virus is still being kept without the approval of the two organisations.
Head of the OIE scientific and technical department Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima stressed that the moratorium was a major factor in the managing of biological risk. He said: “While the rinderpest virus remains present in a large number of laboratories across the world, we cannot say that there is zero risk of a reoccurrence. Priority must be given to destroying the remaining non-secured stocks of the virus and maintaining vigilance until this is accomplished.”
Both organisations said they understood the need for the virus to remain in some laboratories and highlight that it is useful as research material. However, FAO chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth said the material kept for research must be “in a few high-security laboratories” to avoid any risks. Lubroth added: “We must remain vigilant, so that rinderpest remains a disease of the past, consigned to history and the textbooks of veterinarians to benefit from the lessons we’ve learned.”
The organisations said destroying the virus should remain a priority, but in some circumstances, the virus-containing materials can be taken to an FAO or OIE-approved facility for biologically-secure storage. This system is said to be working well in African countries, where researchers have agreed to either destroy the virus or have it kept by the African Union’s Pan African Veterinary Vaccine Centre in Ethiopia.
FAO and OIE member countries, as part of the rinderpest post-eradication strategy, are committed to maintaining a sufficient level of monitoring and surveillance for rinderpest virus outbreaks until 2020.