Botswana Vaccine Institute (BIV) yesterday marked a milestone in the war against rinderpest virus when the laboratory sent off the virus remnants for safe storage in Ethiopia. The virus plagued the world in 1892.
The transfer of rinderpest-infected material follows an agreement between BVI and the African Union - Pan Vaccine Centre (PANVAC), under which a facility in Ethiopia was designated for biosafety of all post rinderpest material. These were previously used to manufacture the rinderpest vaccine.
BVI has had an immense contribution to the global eradication of the disease, when the centre started in 1985 to produce normal vaccines, followed by themostable vaccines (unaffected by relatively high temperatures) in 1994. These vaccines were exported to various markets around the world.
BVI general manager, Dr George Matlho, said dispatching the materials was a good development in order to keep the country and the globe free from “the most devastating livestock and wild animal disease.”
The sending-off ceremony was held at the BVI centre.
“Having the material in our laboratory long after we stopped manufacturing the vaccine in 2005 and the disease pronounced eradicated in 2011 was a potential threat in the sense that a lab escape could trigger an outbreak,” explained Matlho.
Asked whether the duration between 2011 and the material shipment was not long enough to have had the virus escaping, he assured the nation that that has not happened.
“The delay was due to finalisation of material transfer agreement but I want to say there has not been any virus escape from the lab during the period,” Matlho said.
Moreover, Matlho clarified that in the event the disease reoccurred, BVI would recall the material to be used in vaccine manufacturing.
The transfer involves two shipments by Ethiopian Airlines directly from Gaborone to Addis Ababa.
Agriculture minister, Patrick Ralotsia, said the exercise was a great achievement as the disease had ravaged not only Botswana, but also the whole world since 1892.
“This is not just a shipping exercise but clear evidence that Botswana complies and will always comply with biosecurity international standards,” he said.
Ralotsia commended BVI for its themostable vaccine as it significantly contributed to the global eradication of the disease, marking the first animal disease to be jointly declared eradicated by the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) and Food Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in 2011.
OIE is an intergovernmental organisation formed in 1924 in response to the need to fight transboundary animal diseases and notably rinderpest.
Ralotsia added the fact that BVI ceased manufacturing the vaccine subsequent to FAO and OIE recommendations gave more evidence of quality and standard of the institute.
OIE sub-regional representative for Southern Africa, Dr Moetapele Letswenyo, stated that post-eradication era OIE members unanimously adopted a resolution, which committed the international community to specific activities to maintain global freedom from rinderpest.
“These activities included either destroying remaining stocks of material containing rinderpest virus or ensuring that they were sequestered and safely stored in an approved holding facility,” he said.