|Motto||We train rats to save lives|
|Purpose||Provide detection rats technology to solve humanitarian challenges|
|Fields||Mine action, tuberculosis, research and development|
APOPO (an acronym for Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling: "Anti-Personnel Landmines Removal Product Development" in English) is a registered Belgian non-governmental organisation which trains African giant pouched rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis. APOPO's mission is to develop detection rats technology to provide solutions for global problems and inspire positive social change.
- 1 History
- 2 Organisational structure
- 3 Detecting landmines by scent
- 4 Detecting tuberculosis by scent
- 5 HeroRATs scent detection training
- 6 Partnerships and fundraising
- 7 Awards
- 8 Images
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Bart Weetjens, the founder of APOPO, loved playing with his pet rats when he was a young boy. Years later, as a student at University of Antwerp, Bart applied the idea of using rodents for mine detection as an outcome of his analysis of the global mine detection problem. Due to his childhood experience, he knew that rats, with their strong sense of smell and trainability, could provide a cheaper, more efficient, and locally available means to detect landmines.
APOPO started as an R&D organization, working with the support of research and government grants to develop detection rat technology for humanitarian purposes. Early research into this technology began in Belgium, with initial financial support from the Belgian Directorate for International Co-operation (DGIS) in 1997 to develop the concept. In 2000, APOPO moved its headquarters to Morogoro, Tanzania, following partnerships with the Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Tanzanian People's Defence Force. Now housed by the University, APOPO trains the rats – termed HeroRATs because of their life-saving capabilities – in near-to-real conditions.
Over the years APOPO has worked on improving its training techniques and evaluating its programs, carrying out numerous studies to examine the performance of the detection rats technology. In 2003, APOPO won the World Bank Development Marketplace Global Competition, which provided seed funding to commence research into another application of detection rats technology: Tuberculosis (TB) detection. In 2008, APOPO provided proof of principle for the utilization of trained rats in detecting pulmonary tuberculosis in human sputum samples. In 2010, APOPO launched a three-year research plan to closely examine the effectiveness of detection rats in diagnosing tuberculosis, in comparison to other diagnostic technologies, and to focus on future implementation models.
In 2010, APOPO made technological advancements and developed an automated training cage for sample evaluation. The rat's response is measured by optical sensors and the cage produces an automated click sound with food delivery. This new system has the potential to remove any human bias, but still has to be measured against the performance of the much simpler and low tech manual cage. In 2014, in partnership with the Central Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory, the National Institute of Medical Research and the Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia, APOPO undertook a study to determine the accuracy of detection rats in a population of presumptive TB patients when compared with liquid and solid culture as the reference standard.
The TB detection program in Tanzania was launched in mid-2007 as a partnership with four government clinics. As of 2016, the program has already expanded to 28 collaborating clinics in Dar es Salaam, Coast region and the city of Morogoro and processes around 800 samples per week, collected from 24 public clinics in Dar es Salaam and Morogoro. Following positive results in Tanzania, the TB detection program was replicated in Maputo, Mozambique. In 2013, APOPO opened a TB detection clinic at the Vet School of the Eduardo Mondlane University in collaboration with the Municipal and National Medical authorities. At the end of 2014, five additional health centers joined the TB detection programme in Maputo, sending sputum samples to APOPO TB detection center to be evaluated by the HeroRATs. In 2016, APOPO covers almost 100% of all the suspect TB patients who go to clinics in the city. 
In 2003, APOPO mine detection operations began in Mozambique, with the first mine detection rats achieving official accreditation according to International Mine Action Standards in 2004. From 2006 to 2015, APOPO carried out fully integrated mine-clearance programs until the country was declared mine free. In 2012 the speed of the mine detection rats helped APOPO clear the Gaza Province (one of the most mine-affected areas in the Mozambique) one year ahead of schedule. APOPO still retains a presence in the country at the request of the government in order to carry out ‘residual’ (mop-up) tasks. APOPO has also deployed mine clearance operations in Angola since 2012, and initiated operations in Zimbabwe in 2016. APOPO presence in East Asia dates back from 2010: APOPO implemented demining operations in Thailand, Lao and Vietnam, but suspended its projects, respectively in Thailand in 2013 and Vietnam and Lao in 2014, due to lack of funding. In January 2014, APOPO launched its humanitarian demining program in Cambodia along with National partners the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) and the first HeroRATs’ team was deployed in early 2015.  By June 2016 they had helped APOPO and CMAC clear their first minefield together.
APOPO operational headquarters, including the training and research centers, are based at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro (Tanzania).
APOPO has field offices for its mine action programmes in Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia and is in process of opening a new office in Zimbabwe in 2016.
APOPO’s TB programmes are operational in Tanzania and Mozambique, with offices based in Morogoro, Dar-es-Salam and Maputo.
APOPO has also two fundraising offices in Switzerland and in the United States.
The APOPO foundation was established in Geneva in 2015 as a foundation under article 60 of the Swiss Civil Code. In support to APOPO’s global activities, the Foundation aims to strengthen its financial resources and network within the major stakeholders in the fields of mine action and tuberculosis, to identify new technical and scientific partnership opportunities and increase visibility.
Most important institutional donors and public fundraising come from the United States. Therefore, APOPO set up the US office facilitates closer relationships with US institutional donors, provides project management services for US donor-funded projects, and enables direct tax effective giving for the US public and corporations. US office was registered as a 501(c)3 tax exempt non profit organization in 2015.
The Administrative Support Office is located in Antwerp (Belgium).
As of June 2016, APOPO employs over 190 local staff spread over its in-country operations and 14 international staff, and has 260 rats in various stages of breeding, detection training, research, or operations. Over 40 volunteers also work in support of APOPO's activities.
Detecting landmines by scent
Advantages of African giant pouched rats
Deploying African giant pouched rats to detect landmines has several advantages over conventional methods such as using special machines or deminers with metal detectors.
Its main advantage is speed. Past studies have shown that less than 3% of landmine suspected land actually contains any landmines, leaving a high proportion of productive land to lie unused by local communities. Because the rats detect only explosives, and ignore scrap metal such as old coins, nuts and bolts etc. they are able to quickly check vast areas of land much faster than conventional methods, thus reducing landmine accidents and getting people back on their land as quickly as possible.
One rat can check 200 m2 (2,200 sq ft) in around 20 minutes. This would take a technician with a metal detector up to 4 days.
The rats are indigenous to Sub-Saharan Africa, so are well-suited to the tropical climates in which they are deployed, and are resistant to many endemic diseases. They are also widely available and inexpensive to procure. Few resources are needed to train and raise a rat to adulthood and they have a relatively long lifespan of six to eight years. Furthermore, rats do not form bonds with specific trainers but rather are motivated to work for food. This adaptability allows for the trained rats to be easily transferred between handlers.
In the minefields, the rats are too light to detonate a pressure-activated mine when walking over it. Their small size also means that the rats can be easily transported to and from operational sites.
In order to ensure every inch of ground is properly checked, MDRs wear harnesses connected to a rope suspended between two handlers. Rats methodically search up and down a demarcated zone of 10 x 20 m (200 m2 [2,200 sq ft]) and indicate the scent of explosives by scratching at the ground. The insignificant weight of the rats means they do not detonate a landmine; their scratching solely indicates the presence of a mine. Each zone is screened by two animals.
The points indicated by the rats are marked at the edge of the zone, and then followed up later by a technician with a metal detector, who excavates and then safely destroys the mines.
The rats are able to search the ground more quickly (when compared to a manual deminer) and therefore rapidly confirm the presence or absence of mines. This process is termed, technical survey (TS); the gathering of evidence through use of mine detection rats. The TS process also allows a more precise definition of the minefield boundaries and can release or cancel land outside these boundaries that were initially thought to be contaminated. This TS process is a more cost effective method to release mined areas as opposed to conducting full clearance over the entire area. For APOPO operations the rats are a key part to this process.
Mozambique is the first country where landmine detection rats were tested and deployed in the minefields. Operations in Mozambique began in 2003, with the first group of 11 mine detection rats (accredited in 2004) and fully integrated mine clearance operations – including manual deminers, mine detection rats, and machinery for ground preparation – from 2006. Tasked in 2008 as the sole operator to clear Gaza Province, APOPO handed the mine-free province back to its communities in late 2012, one year ahead schedule. In 2013, Mozambique's National Demining Institute (IND) mandated APOPO to expand its operations in Maputo, Manica, Sofaka and Tete provinces.
APOPO mine detection operations lasted for 9 years until Mozambique was officially declared free of all landmines on 17 September 2015. In the process, APOPO destroyed a total of 13,274 landmines and returning 11,124,446 square metres (1,110 ha; 2,750 acres) of land for safe and productive use. APOPO assisted the Mozambique Government to clear landmines and release five out of the ten provinces free from landmines.
Although Mozambique was declared mine free in 2015, APOPO has maintained a presence in Mozambique carrying out residual tasks. This is clearance of explosives in areas not considered to be of immediate humanitarian impact, such as civic land for development, and other locations in which unexpected and suspicious objects have been found. As of June 2016, APOPO teams have been tasked to clear an area near Maputo that was an old ammunition dump that exploded in 2007, scattering explosives far and wide, killing many nearby residents. After clearing the area will become an ecological park and nature reserve.
Cambodia is still in 2016 among the most mine-polluted countries in the world, resulting from 3 decades of conflict in 60s–90s.[a] The collaboration between APOPO and the Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC) dates back to 2012 when two survey teams were deployed within the framework of the National Base Line Survey. In early 2014, APOPO/CMAC started humanitarian demining operations in 6 northwestern districts considered as the most contaminated. Activities were carried out using conventional mine clearance methods. At the same time, APOPO/CMAC also initiated mine risk education activities with surrounding communities.
As major results in 2015, APOPO/CMAC cleared more than 13,719,552 m2 (1,370 ha; 3,390 acres), neutralizing 4599 landmines, and destroying 36 044 unexploded ordnances (UXO). 6,731 people were educated and informed about the inherent dangers of, and attitudes to adopt on, mines and UXO.
2015 marks also the deployment of the first 16 HeroRATs to Cambodia. Two Cambodia handlers previously spent six months in APOPO's training center in Tanzania, to learn about the practical operations of rat detection technology. Following a 6-month acclimatization and training period, 14 out of the 16 HeroRATs were accredited by CMAC in November 2015 in line with the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS).
Since early 2016, HeroRATs have been deployed with CMAC demining teams on operations in minefield for further trials. The trials are aimed at measuring factors such as the speed in which the MDR are able to search the ground and assisting APOPO and the local mine action authorities to develop specific Standard Operation Procedures for the mine detection work in Cambodia.
Angola is affected by mines and explosives remnants of war left by 30 years of conflict, making it one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world. Since 2012 APOPO has been working under the umbrella of its partner Norwegian People´s Aid (NPA), one of the leading humanitarian mine clearance operators in Angola. Until the end of 2015, APOPO's HeroRATs (which were accredited in 2013), supported demining activities in Ngola Luige in Melange and in Malele site in Zaire province, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. As of December 2015, APOPO/NPA completed all the mine clearance tasks ahead schedule thanks to the HeroRATs, which were instrumental in speeding up the operations. Malele site was cleared one year in advance, resulting in returning 520,000 m2 (50 ha; 130 acres) of safe land to local communities, namely to 1,329 small-holder faming families with an estimated population of 6,644 inhabitants. The area is expected to become a cross-border market.
Since early 2016, HeroRATs have been tasked to clear another site in Ndondele Mpasi (in the Zaire province). In 2016, APOPO has also initiated a study to accurately assess the impact of the HeroRATs on conventional mine action methods (including the detection and disposal of explosive materials on suspect land). This is being carried out by studying records of the recent Zaire site clearance that deployed both traditional mine action methods as well as the HeroRATs, and by carrying out tests on other sites with and without the rats.
On 25 May 2016, APOPO and the Government of Zimbabwe signed an official agreement to start up landmines clearing activities in the country, including the border to Mozambique. APOPO will soon send a mine detection rats and train a team of Zimbabwean rat handlers. Once accredited by the National Mine Action Authority of Zimbabwe, HeroRATs and their handlers are expected to start mine clearance activities.
Detecting tuberculosis by scent
Tuberculosis is one of the deadliest diseases in the world, responsible for 9.6 million new illnesses and 1.5 million deaths each year, mainly in poor countries. Rat detection technology is aiding DOTS programs to help diagnose vulnerable populations.
APOPO trains detection rats to detect Mycobacterium tuberculosis in human sputum samples. In APOPO's laboratories in Tanzania and Mozambique, rats sniff a series of 10 holes in a line cage, under which human sputum samples are placed for evaluation. When a rat detects TB, it indicates by keeping its nose in the sample hole and scratching at the surface of the line cage.
Advantages over microscopy
Currently, in most of the world, tuberculosis is detected through microscopy, a method that has not changed significantly in the last 100 years. Microscopy has limited sensitivity and is relatively slow: on average, a laboratory technician can process 40 samples per day, while a trained rat can evaluate the same number of samples in less than seven minutes.
APOPO's TB program has been operational in routine care in Tanzania since 2007 and in Mozambique since 2013. Since then, the detection rats have been consistently increasing case detection rates of collaborating TB clinics by about 40% and cumulatively detected over 9,000 TB patients missed by routine care. APOPO is considered as a key partner in accelerating TB/HIV elimination in Tanzania and Mozambique and has full local commitment from the governments and affiliated institutes, local universities, and civil society organizations.
In the future, APOPO hopes detection rats will become a key instrument in curbing the spread of tuberculosis in large urban areas. Exceptionally fast, accurate, and cost-effective, they have an important role to play in screening large and at-risk populations.
Besides detecting tuberculosis, APOPO is committed to ensure that each and every patient completes their tuberculosis treatment. Therefore, APOPO entered into a partnership with OpASHA (http://www.opasha.org/) which developed eCompliance technology to improve treatment adherence.
HeroRATs scent detection training
The African Giant Pouched Rat is an intelligent animal, relatively calm and trainable. Full training of an HeroRAT takes approximately nine months on average, and is followed by a series of accreditation tests. Once trained, HeroRATs are able to work efficiently for approximately four to five years before they get retired.
All HeroRATs are bred and trained in Morogoro breeding and training center prior to deployment to countries of operation.
Training starts at the age of 5–6 weeks, with socialization. The rats are exposed to various stimuli (such as sights, sounds and people) and then trained through principles of operant conditioning. After two weeks, they learn to associate a "click" sound with a food reward - banana or peanuts.
Once they know that "click" means food, the rats are ready to be trained on a target scent and specialize in either TNT for detecting landmines or TB for detecting TB-positive human sputum samples. The complexity of their tasks gradually increases until they reach the final training stage where they have to do a blind test in order to be accredited. Once accredited, the HeroRATs are ready to work in either a minefield or into the research lab for tuberculosis or remote scent tracing (RST) detection. Rats that fail the accreditation exercise, are given an early retirement and cared for their entire life.
According to their scent detection specialization, rats follow a series of parallel training stages, which build on the skills learned on the previous stages:
Mine detection training
- Click training and scent conditioning: The click sound is established as a condition reinforcer associated with a food reward. Once the rat learns that click means food, it has to search for the target scent, TNT.
- TNT scent discrimination: The rat is offered a choice between various scents placed beneath 3 sniffer holes. By pausing its nose above the target scent, the click and food treat will teach the rat this was the correct answer, to earn is its reward.
- Soil floor search: The rat continues its search for the target scent, but now it is hidden in a sandbox. The rat learns to walk in lanes and returns to its trainer for some banana after each correct indication.
- Field training : For a first time, the rat enters a real minefield with deactivated landmines. It is taught first to detect surface laid mines on a small surface to, and move gradually to deeper mines in larger areas. The training facilities at SUA comprise 24 hectares of test minefields with over 1,500 deactivated buried landmines.
- Blind test and accreditation : In the final test, every rat has to clear an area of 200 m2 (2,200 sq ft) in less than 20 minutes. It cannot miss any of the mines and can only give 2 false positive indications. Once passed, they are ready to be sent to their countries of operation where they undergo an acclimatization and training session in their new environment before being tested again by the national authorities : they have to prove their quality, safety, efficiency and suitability in detecting mines, in line with International Mine Action Standard (IMAS) in order to be accredited by the country of operations and start their mine clearance tasks.
TB detection training
The TB detection training enables the apprentice HeroRATs to develop their ability to detect the microbacteria found in TB-positive samples of sputum.
- Click training and scent conditioning : The click training provides a positive reinforcement and scent conditioning to identify sputum samples associated to a food reward : The rat has to keep its nose for 3 to 5 seconds above a hole beneath which a positive sputum samples is placed, in order to earn is its reward.
- Scent discrimination: The rat learns to distinguish positive and negative sputum samples placed under three sniffer holes. Only when it pauzes above the positive sample, the click and food treat teach the rat this was the correct answer
- Multiple sample evaluation: Over time the samples gradually increase in number until the rats is able to evaluate up to 10 samples at a time under sniffing holes in a long stainless steel plate.
- TB rat accreditation : The rat must pass an internal process before working under operational conditions. The test is conducted under blind conditions and to pass the rat must find every positive sample.
Cost of the training
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. With a minimal start up cost followed by low running costs, testing and mine clearance become highly cost efficient as more samples are tested and land released.
Partnerships and fundraising
APOPO has officially partnered with Sokoine University of Agriculture, The University of Antwerp, The National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Program (NTLP), The National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), The Tanzanian Peoples Defense Forces (TPDF), JENEL TVD, the Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) and Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC).
APOPO's funding partners include the Belgian, Flemish, Norwegian and Liechtenstein Governments, the United Nations Development Programme, the US Department of State's National Institutes of Health (NIH), the European Union, the Province of Antwerp, and the World Bank.
APOPO also receives support from Foundations, private donors and public fundraising campaigns.
My APOPO – Rat adoption program
Myapopo is a sponsorship program aimed at raising fund among the public through a personalized adoption system. When HeroRATs are adopted, their adopters/sponsors receive a virtual HeroRATS and regular updates on their HeroRAT’s daily activities, through all the stages of the HeroRAT life, from birth to retirement. Adopters can also choose their HeroRAT’s name and appearance on the virtual adoption system.
APOPO’s supporters and ambassadors
Princess Astrid of Belgium has been a dedicated APOPO's advocate since she joined the Board in 2009 as Honorary President. In 2011, she visited the headquarters in Tanzania and the mine action operations in Mozambique.
American actress Minae Noji is the first APOPO Ambassador to use her fame to support APOPO’s HeroRATs. A rat-lover, she appears in a video called "It's time to rethink everything you thought you knew about rats", in which she declares her commitment towards the detection rats and APOPO's mission and work.
In 2015, Belgian artist Frederich Michielsen who contracted TB in the past, initiated the Ratatart for APOPO auction project, and engaged more than 50 artists in donating pieces of art work for the auction/exhibition.
Poppies for Peace (from its original title : Klaprozen voor Vrede) aims to help increase awareness on landmine issue and financially support APOPO effort to use detection rats for mine clearance activities. A Poppies for Peace art piece consists in a field of ceramic red poppies as a symbolic reference to landmine casualties. The initiative was started in 2004 by Belgian ceramic artist Anita Huybens, who conceptualized, created and exhibited over 1000 ceramic poppies. After the death of the artist in 2008, the project was handed over by a team of volunteers .
- 2016 : awarded "The most innovative solution" among 15 projects showcased at the World Government Summit.
- 2015 : ranked 24d in the Global Geneva Top 500 NGOs.
- 2014 : winner of the Pionneers of Health Challenge at the GOOD Worldwide Inc’s (good.is)
- 2013 : ranked 11th on the 'Top 100 NGO's' Global Journal's list. The organization is also featured in the top three lists for the best NGOs in terms of innovation and in the peace-building sector.
- 2013 : received the first level of "C2E or committed to excellence" accreditation from the European Foundation for Quality Management, a quality label preferred by the Belgian NGO sector.
- 2009 : received Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship from the Skoll Foundation.
- 2007 : named as a Schwab Fellow, World Economic Forum by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship - Founder Bart Weetjens 
- 2007 : Ashoka: Innovators for the Public Fellowship awarded to founder, Bart Weetjens.
- 2003 : winner of the World Bank Development Market Place call for proposals and awarded a grant by the World Bank to establish the TB training and research facility at SUA.
- Gambian pouched rat
- Mine clearance agencies
- National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention
- In 1999 Cambodia ratified the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and committed to eradicate all threats posed by landmines and remnants of war by 2019.
- APOPO - Frequently Asked Questions
- APOPO - Who We Are
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