Partnering with Rats to Save Human Lives

Partnering with Rats to Save Human Lives

For 20 years APOPO’s scent detection rats have been detecting landmines and tuberculosis.

Over 60 countries are contaminated with hidden landmines and other explosive remnants of war that cause tragic accidents and hamper communities from developing their productive land. Meanwhile, slow and inaccurate detection methods make tuberculosis the world’s most deadly infectious disease. 10 million new people contract TB every year, 3 million go undiagnosed, and 1.8 million die from the disease.

The idea of using rats to sniff out mines came to APOPO’s founder, Bart Weetjens, 20 years ago as he read an article about gerbils being taught to recognize the scent of explosives. Weetjens, who as a boy bred hamsters, rats, mice and gerbils, began to wonder which rodent would best serve those whose limbs and livelihoods are threatened by landmines.

The African giant pouched rat, Cricetomys gambianus are intelligent and blessed with a sense of smell to rival that of dogs and are – at an average weight of about a kilo – too light to set off pressure-activated anti-personnel mines. APOPO says its rats can each search 200 square metres of land in just 20 minutes; people using metal detectors would take five days to search the same area.

APOPO’s Detection Rats can also quickly test human sputum samples for TB. Any suspect samples are then re-checked using WHO endorsed confirmation tests. A TB detection rat can check 100 samples in as little as 20 minutes. This would typically take a lab technician up to 4 days using conventional microscopy.

The APOPO scent detection rats, nicknamed ‘HeroRATs’, help to rid the world of landmines and tuberculosis –returning safe land back to communities for development, and freeing people from serious illness so they can get back on their feet.

One HeroRAT costs approximately 6000 euros to fully train (including basic food, health care, housing, training and evaluation). The cost of APOPO’s HeroRATs works on an economy-of-scale basis, which makes them a highly valuable and cost-effective asset to solve humanitarian challenges.

Type of Partnership: Win-Neutral for Public and Planet

Each of the rats are considered a highly valuable asset making animal welfare their top priority. They are extremely well cared for, receiving an excellent diet, regular exercise, stimulation and enrichment, and loving attention from expert handlers. However, as this partnership does not truly provide a regenerative benefit to the wider African giant pouched rat species, this collaboration is considered neutral for the Planet.

SDGs Targeted: SDG3 Good Health and Wellbeing, SDG16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

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