Skoll Foundation



Skoll Awardee(s): Bart Weetjens
Award Year: 2009
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Health

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 “My mission for APOPO is one of empowering vulnerable African men and women by developing their expertise in animal detection technologies to address humanitarian challenges.”

Sub-Issue: Health Technology Landmines not only kill tens of thousands of people each year but also make communities inaccessible and unable to enjoy sustainable development. This is only one example of humanitarian issues affecting health and security that persist despite their potential to be addressed with innovative technology.

The Skoll Awardee: As a boy, Bart Weetjens loved all kinds of rodents. He kept them as pets and bred them to earn extra spending money. In the 1990s, landmines were a main concern for humanitarian agencies, and often in the news. Bart was engaged in the search for alternatives to the detection methods then available, and remembered his pets with their logistic conveniences and easy trainability. His proposals to investigate the use of trained rats as landmine detectors were laughed at for a few years; but with persistence, he secured a research grant from the Belgian Government in 1997 and APOPO was launched. Since then, Bart and his colleagues developed and deployed the HeroRATS technology: African giant pouched rats trained for humanitarian detection tasks (land mines and tuberculosis). The trained rats can assess large volumes of samples in a short time, and are cheaper to breed, feed, house, maintain, train, and transport than other animals with similar abilities. At the time of the Award, HeroRATS had emerged as Africa’s preferred landmine countermeasure technology.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2009:

  • HeroRATs have returned nearly 11 million square meters of suspected minefields to original populations in Mozambique, benefiting more than 1.4 million individuals. Their teams found and destroyed 13,262 landmines, 1,107 bombs, and 26,940 small arms and ammunitions.
  • Across the globe, 45,209 landmines and unexploded ordnance have been destroyed.
  • Pioneered a fast and accurate tuberculosis detection method based on African pouched rats’ keen sense of smell. More than 7,000 patients who would likely have died, and infected up to 100,000 more, have been identified through this method and received treatment. The method increases accurate detection in clinics by up to 40 percent.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.