Tanzania and Mozambique have embraced the use of giant rats, known as African giant pouched rats, to sniff out tuberculosis (TB) in prisons and other risk populations.
Therefore, onward, whether or not people want to get screened, the rat are expected to point out those who need to be screened, and who will then be further advised to head to hospital for confirmation and for appropriate treatment.
According to scientists from Apopo, a non-governmental organisation, giants rats are now going to be fishing out TB patients. Though rats are already used in sniffing out landmines, the scientists from Apopo, are currently training African giant pouched rats to detect the disease.
The rats, known for having highly developed sense of smell, will now be used to conduct general screening for tuberculosis among inmates of packed prisons in Tanzania and Mozambique.
The rats are known throughout the world for their work of sniffing out landmines, but they are now creating a reputation in east Africa for their skill and speed at detecting TB too.
After HIV, Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death from an infectious disease. There are about 9 million new cases of the disease every year in the globe and about 2 million verified deaths, World Health Organisation states.
In some Tanzania’s communities where TB is most common, including prisons, health officials face a heavy challenge in tackling the infection, since most people in those areas don’t screened due to insufficient fund and awareness, according to the health officials.
It takes one lab technician four days to screen 100 samples while a rat fed with a bit of banana can screen that number in 20 minutes. Baby rats start their training as soon as their eyes open and once fully trained at nine months, they have a nearly 100% accuracy rate in detecting TB.
As existing systems lack the accuracy, speed and cost-efficiency required to scale up screening of the highly contagious disease, many TB cases go undiagnosed, health authorities say.
But with the APOPO, which is funded from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID,), more of these rats will be recruited as well as trained to carry out prison screening that it expects to be faster and more reliable than existing methods.
The program is deemed very crucial as the rats will enable early detection of TB in risk populations. Therefore, people in these countries will now chose between their sickness being diagonised by giant rats or dying of tuberculosis.