APOPO is a social enterprise that researches, develops and implements detection rats technology for humanitarian purposes such as Mine Action and Tuberculosis detection. APOPO is a Belgian NGO, with headquarters in Tanzania and operations in Mozambique, Thailand, Angola and Cambodia.
When you first hear of the idea of the use of rats in such demanding and elaborate tasks as mine detection or even more surprising, tuberculosis detection, it is hard to believe. But think about it - dogs are serving to some extent similar tasks and are providing an important security barrier at important locations such as airports and other ports of entry with law enforcement units. The only difference is the expense that goes into using dogs compared to rats.
Rats are light on their feet, they love doing repetitive tasks, most are docile and when trained and exposed to can be very friendly with humans and above all, they are cheap to operate with. When the people behind APOPO speak of their rats, whom they call "HeroRATS", the affection for these animals goes beyond what most of us are used to. We see them as dirty, disease carrying and destructive rodents. With APOPO however, they have found a multitude of ways to harness the potential of this animal and the difference they are making is astounding.
What is it that they are doing and how are they doing it?
APOPO and their HeroRATS are doing two things in particular;
- They are detecting landmines and helping to clear land for safe use again. As a result, millions of square kilometers of land are being returned to local populations in land-mine affected communities in Angola and Mozambique. With endorsement as preferred technology in minefields clearance by the Great Lakes Regions Countries in the 2006 peace pact, APOPO HeroRATS are set to make a world of difference in the decades to come across the 11 countries and the world.
- They are also detecting Tuberculosis cases that were otherwise missed by traditional microscopic tests. The organization reports that during tests and in actual field trials, the rats have proven to be more sensitive and specific in detecting Tuberculosis samples, and in cases more effectively than the systemic approaches in place. Estimates in place suggest that for every undetected Tuberculosis case, there is a potential for infecting 15 additional people annually. Hence the success the rats have recorded numbers in the hundreds of thousands, and with the continued research and understanding being generated, this cost effective approach to address such a humanitarian problem as TB may serve as an important turning point across Africa and the world.
How do they do it? We recommend you hear it from APOPO. Watch the video below by The Economist.
We also recommend you visit them at www.apopo.org and on Facebook to find out more about the work and difference these HeroRATS and people at APOPO are making.