As a boy, Bart Weetjens loved all kinds of rodents. He kept them as pets and bred them to earn extra spending money. It was early 1990s and the landmine issue was being addressed in the media. While searching for an alternative detector, Bart remembered his youth pets with their logistic conveniences and easy trainability. Bart’s proposals to investigate using 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 to become Africa’s preferred landmine countermeasure technology in 2006.
IMPACT AS OF MAY 2014:
- APOPO’s HeroRATS have returned 6,423,361 million square meters of suspected minefields to original populations in Mozambique, impacting more than 1.4 million individuals. In doing so, the team found and destroyed 1,927 landmines, 1,017 Explosive Remnants of War (ERWs) and 12,168 Small Arms and Ammunitions (SAA).
- In 2008 APOPO pioneered a fast and accurate TB diagnostic method based on Giant African Pouched rats’ incredible abilities to smell.
- The total number of TB patients helped by APOPO rats in Tanzania and Mozambique is 5,700. These patients would have died if it were not for APOPO. The disease, when not discovered, is transmitted to up to 10-15 people, so 57,000 people were prevented from getting TB.
- Its programs in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Maputo, Mozambique have resulted in an increase of more than 40 percent extra case detections on samples that the clinics originally diagnosed as TB negative. The government clinic method was using microscopes, which are not nearly as effective in diagnosis.
- In 2009, the year of the Skoll award, their annual operating budget was 1.2 million Euros. It is now 8.3 million Euros.
- APOPO’s mine action capacity has continued to grow over the last couple of years and they have 7 manual demining teams, 54 MDRs and 3 mechanical ground preparation machines.
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