Pirbright Scientist Receives FAO Honour

UK - The former Head of the Institute for Animal Health’s (IAH) Pirbright Laboratory, Dr John Anderson MBE, has been awarded a medal and certificate by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for his personal contributions to the eradication of rinderpest - cattle plague.
calendar icon 29 June 2011
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A medal was also given to the IAH, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, for its decades of commitment to the fight against this disease.

The Institute is the FAO and OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) Reference Laboratory (major diagnostic laboratory) for Rinderpest, which was headed by Dr Anderson until his retirement in 2008. He continues to advise FAO and OIE.

The awards were made on 27 June at FAO headquarters in Rome by FAO Director General Jacques Diouf who also unveiled a plaque, which cites professionals, technical and financial institutions and member states for their exemplary work and collaboration in the eradication effort.

A declaration of global freedom from rinderpest was adopted by FAO this week. Dr Diouf described rinderpest as “one of history’s deadliest animal diseases and long time threat to human livelihoods and food security.”

It killed 80-90 per cent of cattle, and its socio-economic impact was huge, as cattle are kept for many purposes in developing countries. In addition to meat and milk they provide leather, and in some countries they still provide dung for fuel or manure, and act as draft animals. Loss of the latter badly affected ploughing, which, in turn, led to famine.

In the 1980s and 90s Dr Anderson and IAH colleagues developed diagnostic tests for the disease. Under his guidance the Institute performed many thousands of tests for rinderpest on samples received from other continents, trained overseas diagnosticians at IAH Pirbright, and established diagnostic centres in Africa and Asia.

All this was part of the UK’s contribution to the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme, which involved mass vaccination of cattle, initiated by FAO and OIE in 1994. Although the target for eradication was 2010, it was actually achieved in 2001, as shown by a subsequent decade of surveillance in which no rinderpest virus has been detected.

Several other scientists of the IAH have contributed to this achievement over the last several decades, including the late Professor Tom Barrett who introduced genetic fingerprinting into the fight against the disease.

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