Reports from DRC’s animal health authorities suggest that the outbreak of peste des petits ruminants (PPR) – which affects goats and sheep – has already killed 75,000 goats, with a further one million goats and 600,000 sheep at risk.
An recent mission by the Crisis Management Centre – Animal Health revealed that the disease was a particularly virulent strain, with an 86% mortality rate in goats.
FAO representative in DRC Ndiaga Gueye said: “This is the worst livestock epidemic in the country in more than 10 years.
“We’re seeing that, in response to the threat of their animals contracting the disease, farmers are moving their animals away from infected villages to where, so far, there have been no disease outbreaks, which has been spreading the virus to healthy flocks of animals.”
The FAO has mobilised emergency support to tackle the disease, which will include funds for vaccinating 500,000 goats and sheep, limiting animal movements, raising awareness among farmers, increasing active surveillance for the disease and training field veterinarians.
The organisation has called for a united global front to eliminate PPR, which has been in the DRC since 2008 and is considered endemic in some neighbouring countries, such as Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Kenya and Tanzania. There is a fear that, without co-ordinated action, it will spread to countries further south, such as Angola, Botswana and Zambia.
FAO chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth said: “PPR is caused by a virus that is similar to measles in humans and rinderpest in cattle. When FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) declared rinderpest eradicated in mid-2011, it was the first animal disease eradicated by mankind.
“Excellent vaccines exist to protect small ruminants from PPR, and these can be a key weapon in combating it. Rinderpest was eradicated only thanks to the full commitment from donors, the scientific community, development organisations, our main partners the OIE and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), member governments and farmers the world over to be rid of it. We can do the same with PPR should there be the political will.”