* Race to stamp out animal plague begins

Goats and sheep are sold frequently, which could challenge the vaccination effort against peste des petits ruminants. Humanity wiped out smallpox in 1980 and the cattle virus rinderpest in 2011. Polio stands on the brink of eradication, with just 21 cases recorded this year worldwide. Now, health officials have launched a global effort to vanquish yet another disease — a sheep- and goat-killer that is little known in rich countries, but creates economic ruin for the world’s poorest people. A conference hosted by the United Nations in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, from 31 March to 2 April, marked the roll out of a global campaign to eradicate by 2030 the sheep and goat virus, which is known as PPR — an abbreviation of its French name, peste des petits ruminants. PPR eradication is technically feasible, say animal-health specialists, but it is uncertain where the effort’s organization and billions of dollars of necessary funding will come from. “This is an exercise in persuading the world community and funders that this work could and should be done,” says Jeffrey Mariner, an epidemiologist at Tufts University veterinary school in North Grafton, Massachusetts, who attended the meeting.

PPR is related to measles and rinderpest, which once threatened the livelihoods of cattle herders, especially those in Africa. Causing high fever, diarrhoea and lesions in the mouths of sheep and goats, PPR is highly infectious and kills 30–70% of the animals it infects. It is endemic across northern, central and west Africa and south Asia, and it has more recently taken hold in China and Turkey. The UN puts the economic costs of PPR at between US$1.5 billion and $2.1 billion per year, a burden borne by some of the world’s poorest people, who rely on sheep and goats for food and income. “Sheep and goats are the cattle of the poor, and they are the bank for the poor,” says Bernard Vallat, director-general of World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in Paris, which co-hosted the meeting. Nature Original web page at Nature