ROME — Two global organizations — the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (F.A.O.) and the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (O.I.E.) — have launched a major offensive to bring foot-and-mouth disease (F.M.D.) under global control.

Presented and supported at a recent OIE/FAO Global Conference on FMD in Asunciòn, Paraguay, the initiative provides for the launch of a global program for the progressive control of F.M.D. It will be implemented in the framework of the Global Framework for the Progressive Control of Transboundary Animal Diseases, signed by the two partners in 2004.

"The F.M.D. situation worldwide merits the attention of the international community and donors and it needs to be controlled at source and step by step," said Joseph Domenech, F.A.O. chief veterinary officer.

Seeing that F.M.D. easily crosses national boundaries, regional and international approaches are needed on the lines of the successful F.A.O.-led Global Rinderpest Eradication Program (G.R.E.P.). The G.R.E.P. initiative, launched in 1994, has resulted in eliminating a major devastating disease in cattle.

Regional F.M.D. programs will reflect local contexts and diversity — different types of F.M.D. viruses circulate in different regions — and will serve as the basis for the definition of the global campaign.

Regional roadmaps will build on the Progressive Control Pathway (P.C.P.) approach promoted by F.A.O. and presented in Asunciòn. This provides a framework for organizing actions and investments at country to regional level and measures the progress of participating countries against the disease on a scale of 0-5.

At present, approximately 100 countries in the world’s seven F.M.D. Pools, or regions, are at levels 0-3 while 67 countries are at level 4 and 5 and have been recognized as free of F.M.D. by the O.I.E.

F.M.D. is a highly contagious viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals, which is characterized by the formation of blisters and erosions in the mouth, nose, teats and feet of affected individuals. Although not very lethal in adult animals, it causes serious production losses and is a major constraint in international trade.

F.M.D. has enormous economic and social consequences, with outbreaks often affecting the livelihoods of herders and of rural households for years in many developing countries. However, developed countries can also be hit severely as the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and the Netherlands were in 2001, when 6 million animals had to be destroyed at a cost estimated between $11-$12 billion. It required eight months to eliminate the virus.