The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) have called on member countries, including Nigeria, to comply with a global moratorium on research that involves working with live rinderpest virus in laboratories.
FAO and OIE are working together to bring about the destruction of potentially dangerous virus samples and biological materials that are currently stored in more than 40 laboratories across the world, some under insufficient levels of biosecurity.
Some reserves of rinderpest virus should be kept to produce vaccines and for research in case the disease emerges again or is released as a result of an accidental or deliberate act, according to a release by the UN agricultural agency.
Rinderpest was officially declared eradicated by OIE and FAO a year ago, meaning the virus that causes this destructive livestock disease no longer circulates in animals and continues to exist only in laboratories. Rinderpest does not affect humans.
In two international resolutions passed in 2011, OIE and FAO member countries agreed to destroy remaining stocks of rinderpest virus or to safely store them in a limited number of relevant high containment laboratories approved by FAO and OIE. They also agreed to ban any research that uses the live virus, unless approved by the two organisations.
The process of cataloguing the still existing virus-containing materials worldwide found that some were being kept under insufficient levels of biosecurity. FAO and OIE are therefore urging countries to comply with the moratorium.
The moratorium will remain in place and all future research proposals should be submitted to OIE and FAO for approval, in keeping with the 2011 resolutions. The organisations are currently working together to establish a standard protocol for making requests, as well as detailing the conditions under which such requests would be approved.
“The moratorium is pivotal to managing biological risks until an oversight mechanism is established, which would only approve research essential for continued vigilance and preparedness for a reoccurrence of the disease,” stated the Head of the OIE Scientific and Technical Department, Kazuaki Miyagishima.
“While 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 remaining non-secured stocks of the virus and maintaining vigilance until this is accomplished,” Miyagishima added.
“While rinderpest has been successfully eradicated, there may be some virus material that would be useful for research or vaccine development,” said FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer, Juan Lubroth.
“We must make absolutely sure that this material is kept in just a few high security laboratories to avoid any unacceptable risks. Virus samples must be kept safely or otherwise they should be destroyed. 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,” Lubroth added.
African countries have found a good model, for instance, by agreeing to destroy or transfer their rinderpest material to be kept in the custody of the African Union's Pan African Veterinary Vaccine Centre in Ethiopia. Others could emulate this model.
As part of the rinderpest post-eradication strategy, FAO and OIE member countries are committed to maintaining a sufficient level of monitoring and surveillance for rinderpest virus outbreaks until 2020.
The commitment of donors was key in eradicating rinderpest, only the second disease in history to have been successfully eradicated. Donor funding continues to be crucial in keeping rinderpest eradicated.