UN launches global campaign to wipe out ruinous sheep and goat virus

(William Andrus / CC BY 2.0)

The virus peste des petits ruminants (PPR) isn't that well known in developed countries, but it is a plague in parts of Africa and Asia, where it kills up to 70% of the sheep and goats it infects. Now the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is launching a global campaign to wipe out PPR by 2030.

PPR, which has recently started spreading in China and Turkey, presents an enormous danger to farmers who rely on sheep and goats for both income and food. The UN estimates that the virus costs between $1.5 billion and $2.1 billion a year in lost production and livestock, as well as veterinary costs, according to the journal Nature.

During a conference in the Ivory Coast last week, the UN presented its plan for eradicating PPR, which relies heavily on ramping up vaccination rates. An effective vaccine has been available for decades, but coordinating distribution and administration has been difficult, according to Nature. That's because veterinary care is often scarce in regions where the virus is spreading, and sheep and goats are far more abundant than other livestock in the developing world.

The UN's plan will cost between $7.6 billion and $9.1 billion, it estimates, and the hope is that charities, governments, and private organizations will fund the effort. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has funded PPR vaccination efforts in the past, is currently evaluating whether it should support the campaign, according to Nature.

"This is an exercise in persuading the world community and funders that this work could and should be done," Jeffrey Mariner, an epidemiologist at Tufts University, told Nature. "With PPR, we're going to have to continue to innovate."

- here's the Nature story