After smallpox, rinderpest and polio, health officials have launched a global effort to vanquish yet another disease – a sheep and goat-killer that is little known in rich countries but creates economic ruin for the world’s poorest people.

At the conference hosted by the United Nations in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire early this month, the health officials launched a global campaign to eradicate the sheep and goat virus, which is known as PPR – an abbreviation of its French name peste des petits ruminants — by 2030.

PPR is related to measles and rinderpest which once threatened the livelihoods of cattle herders, especially those in Africa. Causing high fever, diarrhoea and lesions in the mouths of sheep and goats, PPR is highly infectious and kills 30-70 percent of the animals it infects.

It is endemic across northern, central and west Africa and south Asia, and it has more recently taken hold in China and Turkey.

"This is an exercise in persuading the world community and funders that this work could and should be done," said Jeffrey Mariner, epidemiologist at Tufts University’s veterinary school in North Grafton, Massachusetts.

The UN puts the economic costs of PPR at between $1.5 billion and $2.1 billion per year, a burden borne by some of the world’s poorest people, who rely on sheep and goats for food and income.

"Sheep and goats are the cattle of the poor, and they are the bank for the poor," added Bernard Vallat, director-general of World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in Paris which co-hosted the meeting.

PPR eradication presents its own challenges. The campaign strategy focuses on dramatically ramping up and coordinating vaccinations, but this is complicated because sheep and goats are more abundant than cattle in most of the developing world, and people hold onto them for a shorter time before selling or slaughtering them.

The campaign will also attempt to systematically target areas where the virus is spreading, but veterinary services are weak in many of those regions.

One positive effect of the campaign will be the construction of veterinary infrastructure in these areas. This will have impacts beyond PPR, for example by helping to combat other small ruminant diseases, such as goat and sheep pox, said a Nature report.