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Every day, thousands of deminers around the world risk their lives when clearing landmines in an effort to help the communities who live in terror of these insidious, hidden weapons. For deminers, International Landmine Awareness Day is just a regular day, no different to any other day on the minefield. For APOPO, this day is an opportunity to highlight their courage, to raise awareness of the landmine issue, and to celebrate what has so far been achieved, whilst keeping in context the hard work that remains to be done. The focus this year for landmine awareness day is on protectionpeace and development.

Protection
Despite mine action efforts around the world, people are regularly killed and maimed from landmines and other leftover explosives. Children are at risk by playing near their houses or travelling op school, their parents overcome terror every day to work their land and provide for their family. Mine Action is about protecting people and their livelihoods from weapons that were laid for reasons that had mostly nothing to do with them in the first place. Yet, it is the local communities who now bear the brunt of these forgotten, hidden killers.

APOPO, through its mine detection rats, is committed to clearing landmines and releasing land at an accelerated pace, helping to protecting more people and ensuring that children can grow up in a safe environment. Yet the need for protection against landmines is not unique to humans. Mines are also found in isolated areas where endangered wildlife roams, such as along the border between South West Zimbabwe and Mozambique. APOPO’s program there is located in a wildlife corridor and designated conservation area, and aims to protect elephants lion and other animals as they move from one protected area to another.

Peace building
The road to peace is shorter when there is hope for improvement and normalisation of life. Clearing mines is an integrated element of building lasting peace and stability after war by returning safe, productive land to communities who for decades have been crammed together on land whose agricultural fertility steadily deteriorates with over-farming, whilst space for development and expansion is unavailable.

Preconditions for peace also require peace building initiatives, including safe movement of peacekeepers and aid workers, along with distribution of humanitarian aid. The presence of landmines can severely inhibit these efforts leaving communities even isolated and sometimes lawless.

Development
The presence of landmines and ERW will always impede development in one way or another, yet the full implications of landmine contamination on a country are often little known, poorly understood, badly documented and wholly underrated. Rural communities may be prevented from cultivation of land and herding their livestock, thus triggering reliance of humanitarian aid. Development initiatives themselves are often hemmed in and hampered, preventing sustainable development and prolonging dependency of such aid. Rehabilitation of infrastructure can be similarly restricted, preventing economic growth and provision of basic services.

Clearing the landmines allows settlement into new areas in contrast to prolonged urbanisation because of war. Angola is an example of a country where migration of people from excess urbanised areas into rural areas is hampered because of landmines.

What we can do
The Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) has adapted the goal to “accomplish all outstanding obligations under the Convention, to the fullest extent possible, by 2025”. This is for the most part achievable if states, donors and mine action organisations give it the priority it deserves and continue with current or probably higher levels of funding. APOPO has for 20 years developed and improved the use of animals for landmine detection. Our efforts ensure more expedient protection of civilians and animals and support peace building and development in mine affected areas. Integrated Mine Detection Rats teams can triple the overall efficiency of a land release process compared manual mine clearance used alone. Through partnership with other mine action organisations, we can ensure a much wider deployment of rats into more mine affected countries.

Our goal is to help vulnerable groups in mine affected countries. We have been successful in doing this in Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia and we strive to expand our efforts into Zimbabwe and Colombia. We have also deployed animals in South Sudan and with partners, we could further expand into more mine affected countries and territories. The International Mine Action day is also the occasion to honour field staff of APOPO and all other mine action organisations who daily risk their lives to achieve our shared goal. The work of these people may not be easily noticed but is greatly appreciated.

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APOPO thanks partners and donors across the countries in which it works for their continued support

Benny is now free of TB thanks to APOPO.
Benny is now free of TB thanks to APOPO.

 

March 24 is World TB Day

Themed “Wanted: Leaders for a TB-free World”, a 'TB leader', according to the Stop TB Partnership, is a head of state, minister, mayor, governor, parliamentarian or community leader.

At APOPO, in our 20-year history and one-and-half decades of TB research, we have encountered many of these formidable TB leaders who have contributed to the cause through ideas, vision, hands-on support, collaboration and financial assistance to embark on something newto train rats to detect TB.

APOPO’s operational headquarters and first TB research site began in 2002 in Tanzania, supported by the Sokoine University of Agriculture. Research in Mozambique (since 2013) and Ethiopia (2018) has followed. These three countries have a common cause in that they face a high TB burden with approximately half of their nationwide TB patients remaining undetected. These ‘missed’ TB positive patients often include the most vulnerable, and those without proper access to care. Left untreated TB patients can pass on the pathogen to others, and up to two thirds of TB patients will eventually die.

APOPO is conducting on-going research into developing and deploying TB detection rats as a diagnostic tool. In brief, human sputum samples are collected from partner DOTS clinics that have already tested them for TB using locally available sputum smear microscopy, which has a limited sensitivity. Rats re-test these (heat-inactivated) samples and make additional positive indications that are then rechecked using WHO endorsed confirmation tests such as LED fluorescence microscopy. Confirmed TB-positive results are conveyed to clinics that orchestrate patient treatment. This research approach raises our partner clinic detection rates by 40%.

The action does not end here. We are engaging in partnerships with community health workers – often former TB patients who have decided to join patient organizations and take a lead – guiding newly diagnosed TB patients and linking them to care. The sample evaluation by rats also feeds into basic research on scent detection and on biomarkers, i.e. what the rats actually smell. The research on the rats may lead and guide the development and refinement of synthetic diagnostic devices, such as e-noses.

That this innovation roots in Tanzania is not by coincidence; the United Republic of Tanzania is a TB leader itself. It is in Tanzania where the first national, nationwide tuberculosis program was founded - the NTLP (Tanzanian National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Programme) - and it was here, where the shorter, supervised anti-TB treatment has been trialled in the hope of achieving higher cure rates. Tanzania’s research and experience would later feed into the new control strategy of the WHO.

We all can be TB leaders through our efforts to end TB in our own work or terrain. This can be as easy as spreading the word that TB still exists, kills, and is a major issue in economically challenged countries. As Lucica Ditiu, the Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership states: “We owe [it] to us and future generations […]. We must end TB!” 

APOPO thanks health authorities across the countries in which it works for their continued support, in addition to funding partners. 

TB samples are checked by qualified technicians.
TB samples are checked by qualified technicians.
Benny is now free of TB thanks to APOPO.
Benny is now free of TB thanks to APOPO.
Confirming rat-identified TB positive samples.
Confirming rat-identified TB positive samples.
Malen is determined to make a difference
Malen is determined to make a difference

Many people working for APOPO have personally experienced the devastation that undetected landmines can cause. APOPO rat handler Malen was kind enough to share her history of being part of a community living in fear.

Malen grew up in a small village in Svay Rieng near the border with Vietnam. Her community was made up of a few farming families that cultivated the land. Except that the land was riddled with landmines from Cambodia’s long years of conflict.

When Malen was only four years old she witnessed a man she knew from the village step on a landmine and lose both his legs. In fact, Malen’s passion to join APOPO was driven from her own experiences when she was growing up, of the devastation caused by the explosive hazards left from the conflict.

Emotional and Physical Casualties

Data collected by the landmine monitor show that the majority of casualties (84%) are men and boys. But women and girls are perhaps more vulnerable to the indirect impact of landmines — economically, socially and emotionally. Malen has seen first-hand the unspeakable physical and emotional impact that landmines enact. This horrific memory has always stayed with Malen and she is determined to make a difference. Sadly, her story reflects reality for thousands of Cambodian families.

“I joined the Cambodia Mine Action Center (CMAC) in 2009 because I wanted to become a deminer. My parents did not want me to take the job because they thought it was too dangerous.” said Malen. When Malen heard about the new partnership with APOPO and CMAC in 2015 she immediately signed up to join the rat teams.

“I love animals and was intrigued by the rats. When I heard how quickly they can find landmines I knew I wanted to become a rat handler.” Malen is proud to be part of a partnership between CMAC and APOPO that is helping communities who are in dire straits. She is also is grateful for the chance it has given her to learn about rats and what their amazing sense of smell can do. “My favorite rat is Isaac - he was the first rat that I worked with, and he finds the landmines so quickly. But don’t get me wrong…finding and destroying landmines is hard work."

Inspiring Women in Cambodia

Cultural norms in Cambodia mean that in some communities Malen will still need to overcome the judgment of her working in a role that is considered a “man’s job.” She is prepared for this and hopes that by example she will inspire other Cambodian women to join APOPO and CMAC in the future.

“Some people still think this is not a woman’s job” She says, “But my team don’t care. As long as me and Isaac get the job done, that’s all that counts. It’s a dangerous job but we are all in it together. ”

 

Danger Sign
Danger Sign
Deadly Landmine
Deadly Landmine
Team Work
Team Work

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Loun and her daughter
Loun and her daughter

2017 marked two decades since the Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Treaty) was adopted and signed by 122 countries in Ottawa, Canada. The treaty, which bans the use, production and storing of landmines, now lists 163 countries as signatories, whose representatives have come together to assess the current situation, discuss challenges and confirm commitments for a mine-free world by 2025.

Over 40 million landmines have been destroyed by state parties signed to the treaty, and 143 of them no longer hold a stockpile. This represents an outstanding rate of compliance. Most importantly, the number of new mine victims has fallen.

“After 20 years, the Ottawa Treaty has significantly driven the clearance and destructions of millions of landmines all over the world as well as raised awareness of the plight of people still living in terror due to these insidious weapons.” - Håvard Bach, Head of APOPO Mine Action.

Working Together

The international mine action community has set a target to make the world free of landmines by the year 2025 and much work needs to be done in order to achieve this goal. People living in countries from Angola to Cambodia and Zimbabwe, do so in daily fear from these savage remnants of conflicts that ended decades ago.

Land Freed and Lives Saved

Loun has been farming the land with her daughter out of desperation, despite the fear.  

"I’ve worked on this land for the last 3 years and I always worried that landmines lay hidden here – there have been so many accidents nearby. But I had no choice, I had to feed my family and send my daughter to school. She works with me sometimes on weekends for extra pocket money.

Last month, APOPO and their partner the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), arrived to search the fields for old explosives. They bought with them some rats that they said could find the landmines, and we laughed. But why not, as long as they worked? And they did! They ran right up to where they thought a landmine was buried and they scratched on the ground. When the men with the metal detector came and checked, there really were landmines or something else like an old bullet.

We have watched CMAC, APOPO and these rats make their way up into all the fields around us and they work very fast. In our fields they found six landmines in total, one was where I have worked many times. I am so sorry that I put my own daughter at risk, I can’t forgive myself. But now we can continue to work without fear. At least that is some comfort."

APOPO Committed to Saving Lives

APOPO’s mine detection rats are an effective technology that is proven to speed up mine action when integrated into existing methods. With a spirit of partnership, APOPO calls on other operators to come and discuss how we can integrate with their technology and methodology.

Together, we can rid some of the world’s most affected countries of landmines.

 

Heroes Saving Lives
Heroes Saving Lives
Free to work the land
Free to work the land
HeroRAT Working Hard
HeroRAT Working Hard

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HeroRAT Birthday Feast
HeroRAT Birthday Feast

From APOPO’s humble beginnings to our present day status as a global organization, APOPO is proud to celebrate 20 years of detecting two of the deadliest threats on the planet: landmines and tuberculosis.

The HeroRATs have helped clear over 106,000 landmines, identified over 12,000 TB-Positive patients who were missed by their clinics, and prevented almost 90,000 potential infections of tuberculosis – the world’s biggest infectious disease killer.

Where it all began

20 years ago Bart Weetjens, a product design ex-student from Antwerp University in Belgium, called his friend Christophe Cox and Mic Billet to tell them about an idea he’d had about training rats to find landmines, freeing nearby communities from terror and hardship. The project was presented to the Belgian Government who provided a feasibility grant in November 1997 and the APOPO project was born. APOPO and the HeroRATs have since been saving lives all over the world.

Harnessing the highly attuned sense of smell in the African giant pouched rat, APOPO has spent the last two decades training these affectionate rodents in detecting two of the deadliest threats on the planet: landmines and tuberculosis. Each gives off its own unique smell, undetectable to humans, something which the rats are able to quickly sniff out.

“This is a case where mother nature has built a detection system that, coupled with modern technology, can save lives in places where cost-effective and efficient tools aren’t readily accessible,”says Bart Weetjens, founder of APOPO. “There’s a powerful and life-saving alert system in the little noses of these rats. Even after 20 years of working with them, I’m still in awe of what they can do.”

Twenty years later, APOPO has now faced the landmine issue in seven countries, including Cambodia, Angola and, notably, Mozambique, where it played a key role in the country achieving ‘mine-free’ status in 2015.

 What Next?

APOPO is now looking at opportunities to eliminate landmines in former FARC territories in Colombia, where minimal-metal mines aren’t easily detected by metal detectors, and in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park in Zimbabwe, where APOPO expects to soon begin work detecting mines along important migration routes for elephants, buffalo, lions and other protected wildlife. In addition, APOPO’s TB-detection programs are expanding in Tanzania and Mozambique and will soon be operational in Ethiopia. APOPO is also exploring using rats for search and rescue operations, particularly in collapsed buildings, and even in sniffing out brain disease.

The Next 20 Years

Twenty years after the Ottawa landmine treaty was signed, there is still work to be done. To this day, 58 countries are still plagued by as many as 110 million landmines buried in the ground. However, global financial support for mine clearance is declining, necessitating a faster way to find the landmines. APOPO’s goal is to become the go-to resource in accelerating the pace of landmine clearance as the world races to accomplish the Ottawa Treaty target of eliminating all landmines by 2025. In order to do this, APOPO’s HeroRATs could be the key to speeding up the decades long process.

Saving Lives Thanks to YOU

Thank you to our amazing donors. Whether you have been with us since the beginning, or are new to our community, we are proud to call you our supporter.

Bombs found in Mozambique
Bombs found in Mozambique
TB HeroRAT Chewa and Ethan
TB HeroRAT Chewa and Ethan
APOPO Co-Founder, Bart
APOPO Co-Founder, Bart

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Organization Information

APOPO vzw

Location: Morogoro, Tanzania - Tanzania, United Republic of
Website: http:/​/​www.apopo.org
Project Leader:
Nadia Chergui
Morogoro, Tanzania, United Republic of

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