Today's Feel Good Friday is all about the rats of APOPO (an inspiration I will neither confirm, nor deny, is based on something I saw in my neighborhood).
The work of APOPO, a Dutch acronym describing landmine detection, is summed up in their tagline: "we train rats to save lives".
Since the organization's founding in Belgium in 1997, APOPO has been training scent detection rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis. This 45-second video, made for their 20th anniversary, gives a quick overview of the programs.
This work is necessary because there are 61 countries in the world with hidden landmines that injure over 8,000 people each year and prevent communities from farming on productive land. Using metal detectors to find the landmines is a slow and dangerous process. Here's where the rats of APOPO come in.
Dubbed HeroRATs, the African giant pouched rats from Tanzania have a highly developed sense of smell, are easy to train and too light to detonate the landmines when walking over them. They're also fast! An area the size of a tennis court would take a human with a metal detector 4 days to clear. A HeroRAT can search the same area in 30 minutes! APOPO's landmine program is currently operating in Angola, Cambodia and Mozambique.
HeroRATs not focused on landmines are trained to detect tuberculosis. Each year there are 10 million new global cases of tuberculosis and 1.6 million people die from the disease. HeroRATs sniffing sputum samples are faster and more efficient than microscopy. HeroRATs can check 100 samples in 20 minutes vs. a human checking 25 samples per day. Samples identified as positive by the rats are verified by lab technicians. Watch a short video of how it works here.
Although it may seem unconventional, the results are impressive. Since they began over 20 years ago, APOPO has destroyed more than 106,000 landmines and the HeroRATs found over 12,000 TB-positive patients, improving clinic TB detection by 40%. To learn more, explore the website for stories of people who have been impacted by APOPO and read all the rat FAQs your heart desires.
If you'd like to support the work of APOPO you can make a traditional donation, adopt a HeroRAT, shop for merch or create your own volunteer position! Keep current on stories from the field by liking the APOPO Facebook page and following them on Twitter @HeroRATs