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Jun 17, 2009

A Postcard from HeroRATS:Saving African Lives & Curbing TB Spread

Alexis Nadin is a student at American University and former intern at GlobalGiving. This summer, she is travelling through Africa and visiting a number of GlobalGiving projects. Alexis visited this project on June 8, 2009. She writes:

“Hi, my name’s Rosie, I’m a HeroRAT. They tell me I’m saving lives by sniffing out landmines, which is all well and good, but I’m just in it for the bananas. Ever since I was little they have been teaching me how to find landmines and how to tell the people where they are. It’s a pretty good gig; I scratch myself and I get some food. Soon I get to go to Mozambique where I’ll get to find real mines. There, because of rats like me, 200,000 square meters of land are cleared of mines per day! That returns the land to the people for personal and commercial use.”

Our visit to HeroRAT was nothing short of remarkable. Through conditioning (think Pavlov and his dogs), this project trains giant African Pouch Rats to smell for landmines, and more recently, Tuberculosis (TB)! During our visit, we were stunned to see this theory we had learned in high school psychology put to use; as rats sniffed unmarked pieces of land, scratched themselves and indicated that a landmine was buried there. Time and time again, the trainers confirmed that the rats had found a real bomb. Equally impressive were the TB detecting rats which were able to sort through 70 saliva samples (what doctors use to test for TB) in 10 minutes, a task that would take doctors three and a half days. These rats have even found 353 cases of TB that doctors originally missed. This means that those patients can receive treatment for this disease, which can be fatal if undetected.

While at first thought, rats seem like an unlikely solution to landmine and TB detection, but we came to appreciate the simple logic of this project. African Pouch Rats, which are local, and thus carry the appropriate anti-bodies for local diseases, are easy to come by, and have an impeccable sense of smell. Further, unlike dogs, which are expensive to impart and care for, rats are cheap (they cost 25% less than any other intervention) and too light to set off mines.

By the end of our visit, not only were we amazed by the ingenuity of this project (and the fact that it works!) but we were jealous of the rats, who are well loved by their trainers, receive plenty of play time, and get to snack all day long!

Alexis said she would tell her friends this project is: Incredible: You need to see this!

GlobalGiving is committed to incorporating many viewpoints on our 600+ projects. We feel that more information, especially from eyewitnesses helps donors like you continue to support organizations doing great work in the community.

May 15, 2009

Landmine and Tuberculosis Detection Update

We hope this update finds you all well! Our HeroRATS our continuing their important life-saving work or sniffing our landmines and Tuberculosis!

In landmine detection, the HeroRATS have been busy working as usual—training, breeding, and demining in Mozambique. Since January 2009, our HeroRATS have already cleared 87,689 square miles in Mozambique! This is 87,689 square miles that local residents can now use for farms, schools and safe places to play for the children!

In early April, APOPO’s CEO, Christophe Cox, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and APOPO. This Memorandum of Understanding mandates APOPO as the lead agency for Mine Action in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. This agreement sanctions APOPO’s work in the region, and will help APOPO to work more in the 11 member countries in the future. This agreement is very important for the demining work in Africa, and APOPO is very grateful to play a lead role in this vital work with the ICGLR.

In Tuberculosis detection, our HeroRATS have discovered 173 patients with TB since February of 2009. These are patients that were missed by lab technicians working with microscopes, but now are able to get treatment because of the rats’ indications.

We want to send a huge thank you to our friends at Global Giving! On Tuesday, April 21, 2009, Bart Weetjens spoke to an intimate audience of current supporters, neuroscientists, demining colleagues, and interested public at the HeroRATS work. Weetjens was able to connect with supporters in the area, and discuss future possibilities with current and potential partners. A huge ‘thank you’ to Cecilia Snyder and Global Giving for putting the event on for APOPO!

We are very grateful of all for your support! It really helps us to continue our work! We look forward to working with you all more and hope you enjoy the updates!

Warm regards,

The HeroRAT Team

Feb 12, 2009

Landmine and Tuberculosis Detection Update

Ziko HeroRAT training on the field
Ziko HeroRAT training on the field

We hope this update finds you all well! Here at APOPO we are enjoying a year full of new beginnings and look forward to conquering new challenges and creating new solutions in Tanzania and Mozambique.

In landmine detection, the HeroRATS have been busy working as usual—training, breeding, and demining in Mozambique. 11 rats passed their final stages of training in December bringing the total to 53 fully trained mine detection rats in 2008! We were also blessed with ten new baby rats in our breeding program last month.

Throughout 2008 in Mozambique, our HeroRATS found 33 mines and 83 Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). Additionally, due to continuous process refinement by the staff and our Program Director, we have had a giant leap in our clearance capacity; HeroRATS can now clear 2,000 square meters every day.

Our validation study with our HeroRATS as Tuberculosis detectors, is ongoing. Our HeroRATS, as a second screening for Tuberculosis suspected patients at 4 of the best hospital clinics in Tanzania, were able to identify 344 patients over the last year that were missed by human lab technicians. Those patients were contacted again by the hospitals and are now receiving treatment.

The detection of those 344 people affects far more than the 344 people that have TB. TB is an airborne disease that is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or spits near another person. Therefore it is a very contagious and rapidly spread disease, especially in densely populated areas. A person with an active, untreated case of TB can infect 15 people every single year! As more and more people go undetected, the problem grows exponentially as unknowing people infect others. However, if people with TB know that they are infected, then they can begin treatment and eventually cease to be contagious. In the next year alone, 5,160 people have been protected from developing TB because the HeroRATS have detected 344 TB positive people!

We have had a really great year thanks to our many supporters!

Your support really does make a difference. Thank you again and we look forward to hearing from you and sharing upcoming results.

Warm regards,

The HeroRAT Team

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