(Newsroom America) -- The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is mobilizing emergency support for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to counter the rapid spread of peste des petits ruminants, a virulent livestock disease of goats and sheep.
The disease not only threatens food security in the country, but could also result in a spill-over to southern African countries that have never had the disease.
According to the national government's Directorate for Animal Production and Health, peste des petits ruminants (PPR) has infected tens of thousands of goats, and more than 75 000 have already died from the disease.
The government estimates that another one million goats and 600 000 sheep are at risk of contracting PPR, representing one-quarter of goats and two-thirds of sheep throughout the entire country. Sheep and goats are generally kept by the poorest farmers, who have the least ability to absorb the loss of one of their few assets.
"This is the worst livestock epidemic in the country in more than 10 years," said the FAO Representative in DRC, Ndiaga Gueye.
"We're seeing that in response to the threat of their animals contracting the disease, farmers are moving their animals away from infected villages to where so far there have been no disease outbreaks, which has been spreading the virus to healthy flocks of animals," said Gueye.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is believed to have been infected since 2008, when the provinces of Bas-Congo and Kinshasa both reported outbreaks. Neighbouring countries, like Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Kenya and Tanzania, are affected by the disease, and some areas are considered to be endemic.
The Southern Africa Development Community, including Angola, Botswana and Zambia, which are on the frontline of the disease's march southwards, have made stopping PPR a major animal health priority. Eliminating PPR is seen as key to poverty reduction in the world's most vulnerable countries.