• Awarded: 2009
  • Issue Areas: Health · Health Delivery
  • Region: Eastern and Southern Africa · Europe · North America · Southeast Asia
  • Web:
  • About the Organization

    APOPO is a social enterprise that researches, develops, and implements detection rat technology for humanitarian purposes such as demining and tuberculosis detection. A Belgian NGO with headquarters in Tanzania, APOPO has operations in Mozambique, Angola, and Cambodia.

    APOPO trains African giant pouched rats to detect the odor signatures from volatile compounds in landmines, and to detect tuberculosis in sputum samples. Olfaction is the primary sensory modality of rats; they have an extraordinarily high number of functional genes related to odor detection. Moreover, they are hardy animals that are easy to maintain humanely, they learn quickly, and they do not bond to handlers and can therefore be transferred from one handler to another quite easily.

    To date, the rats and their human colleagues have destroyed over 58,000 landmines and cleared over 24 million square meters of land that has returned safely to the community for use. Thanks in part to APOPO’s work, Mozambique was declared free of all known landmines in September 2015.

    Many health and safety challenges, from landmines to diseases such as tuberculosis, persist even when technology innovations could solve them.

    APOPO trains and deploys African giant pouched rats for humanitarian detection.

    Bart Weetjens realized that trained rats are more efficient and cost effective than other detection animals for many tasks.

    More than 1.4 million people have returned safely to cleared lands. Accurate detection of TB has saved tens of thousands of lives.

    Ambition for Change

    Low-cost, locally managed, effective weapons and disease detection technologies that can be deployed globally.

    Path to Scale

    Growth and Product Diversification

    Constant clinical evaluation and monitoring of rats and their performance to meet international certification standards; partnerships with local governments and multilateral agencies to deploy HeroRATs through in-country offices.

    Business Model

    Profitable detection services and product lines for commercial applications.

    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 & Accomplishments

    • 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, 60,233 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 8,800 patients who would likely have died, and infected up to100,000 more, have been identified through this method and received treatment. The method increases accurate detection in clinics by up to 40 percent.

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