09 October 2023
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They're the extraordinary rodents that can invariably smell a rat and would never, ever leave a sinking ship - not until they'd help find and rescue everyone first.
For more than two decades APOPO, the world-renowned humanitarian organisation, has been at the forefront of tackling the world's biggest humanitarian challenges.
And right at the heart of their mission are the HeroRATs - a well-drilled army of highly-trained African giant-pouched rats which saves lives.
They detect landmines, they diagnose tuberculosis (TB), and now they are being schooled in how to search for survivors in disaster zones. Millions of people living in conflict zones and areas of poverty are more protected because of them.
Landmines and explosive remnants of war continue to pose a deadly threat in more than 60 countries. APOPO's mine action programme deploys HeroRATs to detect these hidden hazards.
Thanks to more than £5 Million in funding, raised by players of People's Postcode Lottery, APOPO has been able to clear vast areas of land, making it safe for communities to thrive once again.
Fast detection is crucial to landmine clearance and the lightweight rats can cover an area the size of a tennis court in just 30 minutes, a task that might take a human up to four days.
To date, APOPO's efforts have led to the destruction of 158,016 landmines, 91,556 items of unexploded ordnance, and 35,929 small arms and ammunition. This has ultimately freed 2,234,907 people from the threat of explosives.
Communities across the globe, including in Cambodia, Angola and more recently Azerbaijan, are seeing the positive transformation brought about by APOPO's mine action programmes. Families have been able to reclaim their land, children can walk to school without fear and local economies can flourish as a result.
In the village of Stueng Kheav in Cambodia, Sreymom, a grandmother to five lively grandchildren, can now live and work without fear, thanks to APOPO's landmine clearance. The presence of landmines had cast a shadow of fear over the family, with Sreymom doing her best to keep her grandchildren safe.
However, with the arrival of APOPO's HeroRATs they quickly and safely detected landmines, leading to their removal and destruction, bringing relief to the entire community. Sreymom, who initially feared for her family's safety due to the abundance of landmines and explosives, now plans to expand her farm, planting rice, cassava, and cashew nuts for income, all thanks to the life-saving HeroRATs.
TB remains a global health crisis, particularly in regions with limited access to healthcare facilities. The HeroRATs have shown remarkable accuracy in detecting TB, providing an affordable and fast screening solution.
APOPO has contributed to the detection and treatment of TB in vulnerable communities in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Mozambique. Lives have been saved, and the spread of the disease has been curtailed, thanks to the tireless efforts of these HeroRATs.
The success of HeroRATs in mine clearance and TB detection has sparked further research into their capabilities including search and rescue operations. The rats, with their acute sense of smell and agility, offer a unique advantage in locating survivors in disaster-stricken areas, such as earthquakes or collapsed buildings.
Funding raised by players will continue to support APOPO's mission to make the world a safer and healthier place.
Dr Christophe Cox, CEO of APOPO, said, "The generous support from players of People's Postcode Lottery has been a beacon of hope for our organisation. With their unwavering commitment, we can continue to change lives and make the world a safer place."
Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People's Postcode Lottery, said, "The continued support from players of People's Postcode Lottery has been instrumental in APOPO's ability to carry out their life-saving work. Funding has empowered APOPO to expand their operations, reach more beneficiaries, and explore new avenues for HeroRAT deployment ensuring that even more lives can continue to be touched."