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Goat plague hits poor farmers in Africa, Asia

ROME - Goat plague, a fast spreading virus, impoverishes millions of small farmers across Africa and Asia, but a campaign to eradicate it has drawn far less support than halting mad cow disease or Ebola, a U.N. veterinary official said on Wednesday.

'Peste des petits ruminants' (PPR) or goat plague, attacks sheep and goats - crucial to the livelihood of more than 300 million herders in the developing world - and costs those who can least afford it some $2 billion a year, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported.

Despite an effective vaccine which can protect animals, PPR has spread rapidly in the past 15 years into more than 60 countries, it said.

"We have the tools to eradicate this at its source," FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday. "But we don't have the political will or the resources because it's affecting poor countries."

A plan to eliminate the virus by 2030 through vaccinations and other means is expected to cost between $4 billion and $7 billion, he said.

UN agencies have yet to issue a formal call for donations and the bulk of the money for eradication efforts is expected to come from national governments in affected countries.

In its current form, the virus cannot be passed to humans. But other diseases, including Ebola, MERS and anthrax eventually made the jump from animals to people.

The disease is still affecting people by depriving farmers of their livelihoods and stopping children in poor countries from getting the protein they need, Lubroth added.

Demand for meat and milk from goats and sheep in Africa is expected to rise by 137 percent from 2000 to 2030, and by even more in Asia, according to the FAO.

Goat plague is set to hit the supply of these foodstuffs, pushing up prices and making it harder for the poor to buy them.

Eighty percent of the world's 2.1 billion sheep and goats live in regions affected by goat plague, the FAO said.

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