Rats have a heightened sense of smell and some scientists seem to be taking advantage of this feature. They use rats to sniff out the presence of Tuberculosis( TB) in crammed prisons, especially in Tanzania and Mozambique.
These rats are usually trained by APOPO also known as HeroRat, a Belgian NGO which specializes in rat training. The organization trains rats to sniff out landmines and Tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis is one of the leading causes of death around the world. In 2014 1.5 million people died of TB, more than the number of people who died from HIV/AIDS. The WHO also reports that there are about 9 million cases of TB every year, with the disease being more prevalent in Africa than any other region of the world.
This is further aggravated by the fact that TB infected patients do not present themselves to be treated, some for lack of funds and others lack of awareness of the symptoms and health dangers of TB.
With this discrepancy, it is hard for health practitioners to tackle the disease as a lot of infected patients go unchecked. TB is airborne and easily spread. By inhaling a few germs dispelled when an infected patient coughs,sneezes or spits, one can easily contract the disease. This makes it very dangerous in populous place such as prisons.
This is where APOPO comes in. The rats are subjected to stringent training from as young as when they are four weeks old. They are cultured to socialise with people and detect the presence of TB in sputum samples gotten from TB patients before being deployed in the real world.
The programme which is proven to save costs and time in TB detection is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). APOPO’s US director Charlie Richter says,
“We believe our unique TB Detection Rat technology will prove itself as an effective mass-screening tool.”
“We then aim to expand the programme to all prisons, shantytowns, factories and other settings in Tanzania, Mozambique and other high TB-burden countries, as well as in high-risk groups such as those individuals living with HIV/AIDS. This will improve and save lives all over the globe at a low cost.”