Tanzania:Rat-tech to help expedite Tuberculosis test results

Published by Théophile Niyitegeka
On 24 November 2016 saa 12:34
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Patients undergoing testing for tuberculosis (TB) at Dar es Salaam’s hospitals will now receive their results within 24 hours and start treatment instantly following the opening of new detection facility for the disease in the city.

The facility, which was officially inaugurated in Temeke District yesterday, will use African giant pouched rats, nicknamed ‘HeroRATs’, to detect the disease, the technology developed by a Belgian organisation - APOPO.

APOPO’s HeroRATs are trained by behavioural reinforcement (‘clicker/reward’s training, as in dog obedience exercises) to smell the presence of tuberculosis in sputum samples (mucus that comes from the lungs, which is the traditional medium used to diagnose the disease.

The Rodent Trainer at Sokoine University (SUA - APOPO), Ms Mariam Juma, told the ‘Daily News’ yesterday that the technology has helped to detect many TB patients who were previously diagnosed negative, thus reducing the chance of infecting others.

According to her, with the opening of the new laboratory in Dar es Salaam, patients can get their results between one and two days and get the treatment right away instead of waiting for two weeks.

She said one rat can evaluate between 80 and 100 patients for between eight and ten minutes, thus serving many patients within a short time.Inaugurating the facility, the Director, Health Quality Assurance at the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Dr Mohamed Mohamed, said that the technology had helped to save lives of many people, who could be infected by patients who were forced to wait for a long time to get their diagnosed results.

“I commend these initiatives of supporting the government’s efforts in fighting TB in the country because the screening has sometimes been taking up to six weeks for the patients to be provided with the results, thus providing the chance for infected patients to pass the disease to other people,” he said.

He noted that the main challenge, which was facing the country in combatting the deadly disease, was how to detect it, adding that with the new technology, people diagnosed with the disease will now receive proper treatment.

According to APOPO Communications Manager, Mr James Pursey, the new facility will deliver APOPO results within 24 hours so patients get them when they return to clinic for their standard results. He further said that the opening of the facility will vastly increase the number of people receiving treatment. “The new lab will have 10 TB-detecting HeroRATs working there alongside 12 staff made up of rat handlers and lab technicians,” he added.

According to Mr Pursey, the same model, implemented since October 2015 at the APOPO facility in Maputo, Mozambique, has increased treatment initiation rates by 25 per cent - on top of the 40 pc increase in initial TB detection.

According to him, APOPO’s HeroRATs in Tanzania are currently screening around 150 samples a day from clinics in Dar es Salaam at its operational headquarters in Morogoro. “The new lab in Dar es Salaam will allow APOPO to deliver results to the clinics within 24 hours.

This in turn means that all the confirmed patients who return to the clinics for their results the day after their initial appointment will be put on treatment,” he observed.

To date, the APOPO HeroRATs have identified over 10,490 TB patients missed by government clinics in Tanzania and Mozambique thus halting over 62,000 further infections and increased clinic detection rates by over 40 pc.

The HeroRATs have also helped to clear over 20 million m2 of contaminated land and destroyed over 105,000 landmines and bombs in six countries. The statement further indicated that Tanzania is one of the world’s 30 high- TB burden countries and conventional clinic methods using microscopy are only around 20-60 pc accurate.

“Many TB positive patients are wrongly diagnosed by clinics and sent home where they continue to pass on the disease to family, friends and colleagues,” he observed. He said since 2007, the APOPO HeroRATs have helped increase clinic detection rates by over 40 pc.

But due to APOPO’s distance from the patients in the cities, often drop out of the system before the APOPO results can be delivered, hence missing out on life saving TB treatment. “Since 2002, UKAid has helped 13.2 million people access vital TB treatment through various programmes globally, the DFID Human Investment Team Leader, Ms Jane Miller, said.