Mongolia, the birthplace of Genghis Khan, the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky, and home to the world’s last nomads, reigns as a country rooted in tradition. In many ways, life in Mongolia continues to mirror ancient times. Approximately 40% of modern Mongols follow a nomadic, pastoral lifestyle on the steppe. As of year-end of last year, there were 209.8 thousand households with animals, 145.3 thousand of whom are herding households (FOA.org, 2019). Following their livestock, nomadic families move their gers, round tents made of folding wooden walls and heavy felt outer coverings, up to five times a year. These nomads do not have running water or electricity. Vegetables are scarce; therefore, Mongolian diets predominantly consist of meat and dairy products. The life of the family depends on the health of herds and is punctuated by caring for animals (‘Mongolia – Nomadic Land’).
The importance of animal health in Mongolia cannot be overstated. For city dwellers and nomads alike, more than 70 million animals are an essential source of food, income and cultural symbols for this country of barely three million inhabitants (‘Mongolia Keeps Animal Diseases at Bay with the Help of Nuclear Technologies’, 2016). Landlocked between Russia to the north and China to the south, the 610,740 square miles of Mongolian landscape is vast and diverse. Mongolia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world; livestock outnumber people ten-to-one and pastoralism is one of the key economic activities, employing almost half of the population and accounting for 90 percent of agricultural output (New Agriculturist, 2009). Primary to the economy are the ‘five types of animals’: sheep, goats, cattle (mainly yaks), horses, and camels. From these livestock numerous animal products are harvested, including meat, dairy products, hides and wool. In other words, Mongolian economy is still dependent from development of animal husbandry. The animal husbandry prepares 23.5 thousand tons of sheep wool, 5.2 tons of goat cashmere, 1.3 thousand tons of large animal hair, 1.2 thousand tons of camel wool, 335.0 million liters of milk on average per year (FOA.org, 2019). Mongolia is the world’s second largest producer of cashmere in the world, behind only China.
Mongolia reported its first-ever outbreak of peste des petits ruminants virus (PPR) in September 2016, when sheep and goat deaths were linked to an extension of PPR cases occurring in China. The outbreak in Mongolia then spread to an endangered species, the Mongolian saiga, killing over two-thirds of the population. The saiga deaths, which highlight the extreme vulnerability of animals that have not been exposed to PPR as well as the challenge of protecting wildlife, are an “unprecedented and worrisome development”, said OIE Director-General, Dr. Monique Eliot (‘Alarm as Lethal Plague Detected Among Rare Mongolian Antelope’, 2017). PPR is a painful condition causing mouth ulcers, diarrhea and ultimately death. PPR was first identified in Cote d’Ivoire during the 1940’s and has spread throughout Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia and China. In the worst situations, PPR-related morbidity is as high as 100%, with a mortality rate that can reach 90% (‘Global Strategy for the Control and Eradication of PPR’, 2015). Fast and accurate diagnosis is critical in Mongolia where nearly all of the livestock roam free and graze off the land, explained Bandi Tsolomon, head of the veterinary division and chief epidemiologist at the Implementing Agency of the Government of Mongolia for Veterinary and Animal Breeding (‘Mongolia Keeps Animal Diseases at Bay with the Help of Nuclear Technologies’, 2016).
Across the developing world viral diseases such as peste des petits ruminants virus (PPRV), bluetongue virus (BTV) and Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) place a huge disease burden on agriculture. In particular these viral agents affect sheep and goat production, the agricultural mainstay of some of the poorest people on the planet (‘Combating Infectious Diseases of Livestock for International Development’). Outbreaks of these type of diseases can also result in trade restrictions as other countries do not want to risk exposure. Due to animal diseases, Mongolia’s export market shrank as countries have grown concerned about the spread of diseases potentially affecting the quality of the products (‘Mongolia Keeps Animal Diseases at Bay with the Help of Nuclear Technologies’, 2016). However, the effects of the market pale in comparison to the suffering of the people who have lost their single source of food and income.
Bearing in mind the strong negative impact that PPR can have on food security and the livelihoods of poor farmers, the main keepers of sheep and goats, the Global Framework for the Progressive Control of Transboundary Animal Diseases (GF-TADs), the Global Steering Committee in 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO), the Council, the Committee on Agriculture (COAG) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), in the form of a resolution of the World Assembly of Delegates of the OIE in 2014, have all recommended the development of a PPR Global Control and Eradication Strategy (hereinafter named ‘Global Strategy’), and expressed a strong willingness to address the animal health problems in a systematic way, dealing with horizontal as well as more disease-specific (vertical) issues (‘Global Strategy for the Control and Eradication of PPR’, 2015). The Global Strategy’s three components are PPR control and eradication by the year 2030, strengthening veterinary services, and prevention and control of other major diseases.
PPR’s closest relative is rinderpest, a cattle disease that was eradicated in 2011, making it the second disease, after smallpox, to be completely wiped off the earth (Rajewski, 2017). PPR’s similarities with rinderpest make it an excellent candidate for eradication. Experience gained from the rinderpest crisis proved that vaccinations should be delivered smarter, not harder. For example, Ethiopia battled rinderpest unsuccessfully for decades by trying to vaccinate all of the cattle. Success was not achieved until a few hotspots driving the problem were identified. Once they finally started targeting the right cows, Ethiopia wiped out rinderpest within a year or two (Rajewski, 2017). Therefore, surveillance and control systems monitored by veterinary services are key to the eradication of PPR and must be established. Effective control of PPR requires that basic reliable laboratory diagnostic services are operational within individual countries (preferred option) or are outsourced (‘Global Strategy for the Control and Eradication of PPR’, 2015).
After disease surveillance, a vaccination campaign is the next step in eradication. There are current laws such as the Law of Protecting Animal Genetics and Health in Mongolia that establishes contracts between individual herders and animal clinics that cover veterinarian services. For example, herders pay for anti-parasite medicine which costs 130 Mongolian turgrug (around $0.06) per head of livestock, but the government pays for the service fee. Similar, if not more aggressive, arrangements between herders, veterinary services, and the government are needed to provide PPR vaccines. Educating herders on better livestock care and delivering tools to the grassroots level is bringing welcome changes in Mongolia, changes that will help the country fulfill goals such as preserving nomadic culture as a national brand, and enter the competitive international market to diversify its economy (‘Better Animal Health Care Brings Welcome Changes to Herder Households in Mongolia’, 2017). The effectiveness of a vaccination campaign is reliant on efficient veterinary services and dependent on researchers and vaccine companies. There also must be a strong political willingness to eradicating the virus, because the eradication of PPR will be a long-term financial commitment. Unfortunately, there are numerous negative factors that can hamper effective control and eradication of PPR, such as the insufficient control of live small ruminant movements, poor information on the size of their populations and the absence of identification of animals in most developing countries (‘Global Strategy for the Control and Eradication of PPR’, 2015).
In conclusion, one country cannot eradicate PPR alone. It will take a global effort, but with a cheap, effective vaccine, target vaccination, political willingness, and public awareness the eradication of PPR by the year 2030 is possible. The most fragile persons of the world, especially women and the youth, are dependent on small ruminants. When this disease hits a herd, up to 90% of the animals can die destroying the livelihood of the herder. This type of devastation forces migration and can create instability and conflict. Currently, 80% of the sheep and goat population of the world is at risk of contracting PPR. Therefore, it is imperative that Mongolia and the rest of the world follow the Global Strategy of the GF-TADs, FOA and OIE to eradicate PPR.
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