Tanzania is one of 30 countries to be recognised by the World Health Organization as a tuberculosis (TB) ‘hot spot.’ The impact of TB on individuals and communities is very significant. Annually, about 154,000 people suffer from the disease, but only about half of them are detected, and many die before they receive or complete treatment. A lack of accurate diagnostics, complications from co-infection with HIV, systemic shortages and management of essential equipment, supplies and health professionals, and stigma surrounding the disease all exacerbate this.
In 2002, the global non-profit organisation APOPO began testing the ability of African giant pouched rats to reliably detect TB as a response to the high burden of the disease in Tanzania. Since 2007, APOPO in partnership with the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Programme (NTLP) has been scaling up its efforts to support national clinics and help significantly increase detection rates. The rats, which are also known for their ability to detect landmines and other explosives, are now appropriately referred to as ‘HeroRATs.’