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Quarterly Update from Cheeky

Rat

Greetings from the TB Detection Center in sunny Tanzania! I am on a break from my training, and just couldn’t wait to fill you in on everything I’ve been doing here.

After a bumpy ride from the breeding kennels at APOPO’s headquarters, to the Tuberculosis Detection Facility a few kilometers away, I settled into my brand-new kennel and felt ready to start my important work as a TB Detection rat. And it all began when I met my trainer, Tony. Tony is one of the newest HeroRAT trainers here in Tanzania, and I am one of the newest TB Detection rats – so we both knew it would be a great fit.

After we got to know each other a little, Tony started me on a process called “click training.” He told me there would be food involved, so I was enthusiastic right away. But the first time we practiced, I admit I was a little confused! Tony placed me in a clean glass cage, and for a few minutes, I ran around, sniffing excitedly before I wondered what came next. Finally, I heard a loud “click” noise from the side of the cage, and before I knew it, Tony was handing me a delicious cocktail of banana, avocado, and rat chow (if you ever get the chance to try this delicacy, I recommend it)!

It didn’t take long for me to realize that whenever I heard this “click” noise, all I had to do was run to Tony’s side of the cage to get my reward. When Tony thought I was ready, he moved me to an even tougher stage, called “one hole” training.

At “one hole” training, I was introduced to the delicate bouquet of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tony would place me in the same glass cage, but this time, there would be a sample pot with the smell of TB beneath one of the holes at the bottom. Whenever I wandered near the sample, I’d hear the familiar “click,” and I’d run over to Tony to get my treat.

But now, he is a bit tougher on me. Before I can graduate from this stage, he insists that I must practice concentrating, and keep my nose in or above the hole long enough for me to prove to him that I really know what I’m doing. It’s tough – I know that he’s waiting for me with banana at the ready, so sometimes I get carried away and run for a treat before it’s been long enough. But I am a young rat, and still learning my craft!

Soon, I will have graduated and move on to the next stage – in no time at all, I will be proudly serving as a second-line screen for TB patients in Tanzania. How exciting is that? And I could not do this important work without your important help! Thank you for your support, and stay tuned until I write to you next.

Love and whiskers,

Cheeky the HeroRAT

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