Nelly Bassily | December 20, 2010
Poria Ole Suntai watches over his 70 head of cattle as they graze the lush pasture on his 80 hectare farm in Isinya, Kenya, 50 kilometres south of Nairobi. He is content, knowing that he will never have to face rinderpest again. The disease is known locally as oludwa. It wiped out almost his entire herd in the 1970s.
Kenya was certified as rinderpest free by the World Animal Health Organization on 28 May 2009. More than one year later, on Friday 26th November of this year, pastoralists and scientists met with national and international agencies at Meru National Park to commemorate this extraordinary feat and declare Kenya free of rinderpest.
Two of Mr. Ole Suntai’s cows that received the rinderpest vaccine 10 years ago are still alive. The vaccine has been of great benefit, but pastoralists are relieved that that the highly contagious disease has finally been eradicated. The deadly animal virus has been a major threat to food security and rural development.
Mr. Ole Suntai’s 70 cattle are the sole source of income and sustenance for his big household of four wives and thirty children. He says, “Disease and drought are my biggest worries. I dread outbreaks because if I lose my animals then there is no way I can take care of my family.”
Rinderpest has also had a huge effect on buffalo, kudu, and giraffe populations in Kenya’s national parks. Meru National Park has suffered particularly serious outbreaks. The last known occurrence of rinderpest in the park was in 2001.
Francis Gakuya is head of veterinary services for the Kenya Wildlife Service. He explains, “Rinderpest had high mortality and morbidity rates and any loss of wildlife affected tourism, which contributes up to 15% of Kenya’s GDP.” While wildlife diseases affect GDP, pastoralists such as Mr. Ole Suntai care for the largest livestock populations in Kenya. Pastoralists often graze their animals close to or even inside national parks. This factor complicated the fight against rinderpest.
However, a coordinated global effort has now brought rinderpest to the brink of extinction. For Kenya, the goal of global eradication by 2011 has come early. This is probably because Kenya was the heart of field activities, including vaccine development and mass vaccination of livestock and wildlife.
Now that rinderpest has been eradicated from Kenya, the focus will shift to the control and eradication of other livestock diseases. Trypanosomiasis, peste des petits ruminants (PPR), East Coast Fever and Foot and Mouth Disease top the list. These diseases pose a great threat to household economies across the country.
Poria Ole Suntai’s grandchildren will not have to live through a rinderpest epidemic. They will only hear of it, as one of the stories of old told by the family fireplace.