Down to Zero: A Model for Eradicating Disease

In 1989, the WHO declared smallpox to be the first human disease ever eliminated and in 2011, the OIE announced rinderpest was first animal disease ever wiped out. These successes have clearly demonstrated that disease can be wiped off the face of the planet.

However, it requires global coalitions working together to implement effective vaccination programs. This requires strong, international support for vaccine R&D and improved market access in regions where it is critical these tools reach human and animal health professionals .

Rinderpest (or cattle plague) had been responsible for the deaths of millions of animals since the Roman era.
In 1920, a disastrous rinderpest epidemic broke out in Belgium and quickly spread across Europe. The French government called for an international meeting to improve disease control coordination, which led to the formation of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), now known as the World Organisation for Animal Health.
An improved vaccine is developed in the 1950s that allows for greater control and the Interafrican Bureau of Epizootic Diseases is founded to help eliminate the disease in Africa. However, without a global campaign of sustained vaccination, the disease continues to thrive.
Following devastating rinderpest outbreaks in the 1980s, FAO and the OIE create a Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme in 1994 and quickly begin working with nations on eradication strategies. Their goal is the worldwide eradication of rinderpest by 2010.
Ten years after the final case of rinderpest was ever detected, the FAO and OIE declare the disease eradicated in 2011. Experts estimate that in 10 African nations, the elimination of rinderpest saves US$111 million each year while providing an additional 126,000 tonnes of beef and 39,000 tonnes of milk to global markets.


What diseases are next?

The success in eradicating rinderpest prompted the world veterinary community to look for other diseases to tackle, and settled on three:

  • Dog-mediated human rabies
  • Foot and mouth disease (FMD)
  • Peste des petits ruminants (PPR)

Of these, PPR eradication is expected to cost US$2.26bn over 15 years, which will create $US 76.5 billion in benefits to farm communities, nearly 34 times the original investment and equal to 25% of the annual agricultural output of sub-Saharan Africa2.3

These activities are being led by the OIE, FAO and other global institutions. Learn more at the OIE website.5

Antibiotics and vaccinations

Dramatic victories against deadly diseases in the 21st century, from eradicating rinderpest to slashing rates of polio, have been a triumph for modern medicines. People have seen family live healthy lives thanks to new treatments. Farmers and veterinarians have cured deathly ill animals and prevented the suffering of even more.

Antibiotics and vaccinations have been leading tools in achieving, and securing, these gains. Vaccines have become a bedrock of disease prevention, allowing veterinarians to stop outbreaks before they occur. However, disease will always be a threat and some animals will become sick during their lives. Veterinarians rely on antibiotics to help them care for these ill animals.

However, our world is rapidly changing. Climate change spurs deadlier outbreaks, rising populations strain food supplies and diseases continually adapt to available tools. Governments and animal medicines companies have met similar challenges in the past though and can continue to do so.

By continually developing new medicines and supporting robust treatment programs, we will support farmers and veterinarians facing these evolving threats. We must also work together to ensure medicines remain effective by treating a sick animal with the right medicine, at the right dose, at the right time and with the right oversight. A principle known as – as little as possible, as much as necessary.

With this approach, antibiotics and vaccinations, alongside other key tools like proper nutrition, hygiene, and husbandry, can help veterinarians better protect the health of our animals long into the future.

Fighting back against disease with antibiotics: a case study4

In 2005, disease struck Lahore, Pakistan, sickening two dozen horses with glanders, a life-threatening illness that infects the lungs and kills 95% of untreated animals.
The horses were racked with fever and cough, while their appetites rapidly disappeared. Ulcers began to form inside their respiratory system – their lives were at risk.
Professionals from the University of Agriculture in Faisalabad immediately turned to a 12-week regimen of antibiotic treatments.
Two months later, the stable was healthy and thriving once again, showing no symptoms of the disease.
After a one-year follow up, researchers found healthy horses free of disease with no signs of resurgence.

Antibiotics: From Ancient Times to Today

The modern era of antibiotics kicked off in 1928 when Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin could treat infections quickly and effectively. However, historians have found evidence of antibiotic usage in ancient communities as far back as 2,000 years ago.

  • Communities in ancient China, Greece, Serbia and Egypt would press moldy bread against an infected wound as a primitive treatment. We know today that the antibiotics present in mold lent the bread its curative properties5.
  • The red soils of Jordan were famous for their restorative nature when applied to wounds in ancient times. Researchers today have discovered antimicrobials in these soils.
  • The Nubians, a nomadic African community, regularly consumed tetracycline by brewing beer that contained the antibiotic6.

Ever since these first antibiotic treatments, we have faced resistant infections. Recent studies have found that certain resistant strains can be traced back thousands, even millions of years. It is a natural, evolutionary defence and an unavoidable challenge7.

However, through modern techniques and technologies, we can work to control and manage the issue to ensure antibiotics remain effective long into the future. This will safeguard the health and well-being of our families, communities and animals.

Managing antibiotic resistance

Effective antibiotics save the lives of countless people and animals each year. For the millions facing the dire symptoms of a disease like leptospirosis – high fever, muscle pains, vomiting and more – these invaluable tools prevent life-threatening consequences.

However, overuse or misuse of antibiotics can create heartier strains of resistant bacteria and weakens the tools available for fighting disease. For example, the U.S. CDC estimates that 1 out of 3 human antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and could be treated with other methods. As a result, they have identified 18 drug-resistant threats to our health that must be controlled in order to protect the lives of friends and family.

This is why animal health professionals believe in a simple, clear and firm approach for antibiotics – as little as possible, as much as necessary. Each illness is unique, however, by working with professionals – from veterinarians to public health officials – farmers can develop the right treatment to keep our animals healthy, while preserving these tools for the future.

However, we cannot solve this problem alone. Two or three of the CDC’s 18 drug-resistant threats can originate in animals, campylobacter and non-typhoidal Salmonella. Tackling them all means the animal and human health sectors must collaborate in an open, transparent approach that focuses on clear, practical solutions.

When animals get sick, they suffer just as we do. Veterinarians and farmers cannot afford to lose antibiotics or animals will pay the price. Managing resistance can be difficult, but it is possible. If animal and human health can work hand-in-hand on this challenge, we can safeguard our health for generations to come.

The role of animal health companies in preserving antibiotics:

  • Championing the key principle of responsible use: ‘as little as possible, as much as necessary’.
  • Advocating for more targeted use of shared antibiotics.
  • Good hygiene and management practices to prevent spread of infection.
  • Championing the fact that antibiotics are one way, but not the only way to keep animals healthy.
  • Researching new, innovative techniques and treatments, like vaccines, to treat and prevent diseases that reduce the burden on antibiotics to tackle difficult illnesses.

A Bedrock of Disease Prevention

Whether working with an animal or a person, health professionals always seek to prevent disease rather than treat an outbreak. This not only keeps the patient healthy, it’s simpler, easier and more cost-efficient

Vaccines, medicines that improve immunity to a disease, have been a bedrock of disease prevention since the first vaccinations were developed in the late 1800s. Vaccination has eliminated smallpox in people, rinderpest in animals and can control other diseases against which no other treatment exists, such Foot-and-Mouth Disease, canine distemper and rabies.

In the coming years, international campaigns will fight to eliminate deadly diseases like polio in people and peste de petit ruminants (PPR) in livestock through robust vaccination programs. Their efforts will save thousands of lives, transform rural farming communities and improve the quality of life for animals and people.

Disease prevention is not a static challenge though. Disease constantly evolve and new strains continually emerge. However, vaccine companies have worked for decades to remain agile and adapt. Their efforts focus on preventing disease not just today, but far into the future.

Through modern technologies and cutting-edge research, researchers are developing new vaccines against diseases which have little effective treatment. For a disease like brucellosis, which infects 500,000 people through animal-to-human transmission, this can transform regions.

For centuries innovators, from Louis Pasteur to modern medicine companies, have worked tirelessly to deliver new vaccinations. They are bedrocks of disease prevention and remain essential tools for protecting the health of our pets and farm animals.

Five trends for the next five years

Better surveillance systems for disease threat identification

Portable technologies will help fill the void in information about the movement and emergence of livestock diseases throughout the world. For example, pilot studies have shown how farmers, health workers and veterinarians in developing countries can use smartphone apps to share images and data from sick livestock – this can accelerate the ability to identify and report diseases.

New technologies will improve how we treat animal disease

Satellite data has been used to map rainfall across huge expanses of territory to help predict future patterns of disease such as Rift Valley fever, heavily influenced by local climatic conditions. Researchers in parts of the world where livestock are ranched over large areas are exploring the use of ‘Smart’ ear tags – these small devices continuously broadcast an animal’s movements and can provide warnings of impending disease outbreak as sick animals become less active.

Greater emphasis on animal welfare

If animals kept by people for food or companionship are to enjoy a reasonable quality of life, then efforts to maintain their health is a necessary component of improved animals welfare.

Greater collaboration between public and private sectors

Recent incidents of bluetongue and Schmallenberg in animals, and the Ebola virus in humans have shown that progress can be made when publicly-funded research institutions and the product development skills of the private sector are combined 9.

More treatments available for all species

Humanity’s growing appetite for animal protein may mean the health of minor species becomes ever more important. Finding new medicinal products and better quality environments for fish farming operations will become crucial.