Today marks the declaration of the eradication of rinderpest, one of the world's most dreaded animal diseases. This unique event in the history of animal health compares to the eradication of smallpox in humans.

The announcement came during the 79th General Session of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), held in Paris. The global freedom status will be ratified by Ministers of Agriculture at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) conference in June.

Rinderpest, also known as cattle plague, has ravaged cattle and the human populations that depend on them throughout history. It was rinderpest that led to the formation of the OIE in 1924 following a new incursion of the rinderpest virus in Europe, via the port of Antwerp.

Dr Peter Roeder, who was Secretary of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme from 2000 to 2007, commented:

"Once a dream, rinderpest eradication is now a reality. Not only does this magnificent achievement help to protect the livelihoods of many millions of livestock-dependent farmers but, because it removes a serious constraint to livestock trade, it has a major positive impact on many countries' economies. If we can truly learn the lessons from rinderpest eradication there is no reason why we couldn't see other diseases brought to global extinction with similar pro-poor and economic impact."

BVA President Harvey Locke added:

"This monumental achievement testifies to the dedication of the veterinary services of affected countries and illustrates how vets and veterinary science can have a global impact. With that in mind I am absolutely delighted that Dr Roeder will be presenting the plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture at this year's BVA Annual Congress. Entitled 'Making a global Impact' Dr Roeder will discuss how vets can contribute to disease control on a global scale.

"I should also like to pay tribute to two British veterinary surgeons who made seminal contributions to the global effort to eradicate rinderpest. Gordon Scott, a rinderpest researcher, and Walter Plowright who developed the tissue culture rinderpest vaccine, were both leading lights of the rinderpest eradication effort. Sadly they are no longer with us to witness this milestone in veterinary history."

As part of the BVA's celebration of World Veterinary Year Vet2011 and to further illustrate how vets and veterinary science can have a global impact the Overseas Group is organising on Friday 23 September a full day's programme at BVA Congress: exploring current issues concerning livestock and global food security, veterinary involvement in disaster relief and management, as well as a session celebrating 100 BVA overseas travel grants.

British Veterinary Association