1.3 Million people die each year from dirty needles.
Lifesaver syringe. Image courtesy of SafePoint.
In 1997, artist and inventor Marc Koska sold the first Lifesaver Syringe. His own invention, the single-use syringe, automatically breaks apart after one use. According to the World Health Organization, 1.3 million people die each year as a result of dirty syringes. But up until 1998, the World Health Organization’s policies in developing countries still allowed syringes to resterilized and reused up to 200 times. For the past couple of decades, Koska—with his organization, SafePoint— has been advocating against these practices and marketing the single-use syringe as a solution to prevent the spread of preventable diseases all around the world.
Today, Koska’s tireless effort finally sees success as the World Health Organization formally sounds the call for single-use syringes. The organization announced on Monday that it would be implementing a new policy to prevent unsafe injections by necessitating the use of single-use syringes—what they refer to as “smart syringes”. They report that in
“Adoption of safety-engineered syringes is absolutely critical to protecting people worldwide from becoming infected with HIV, hepatitis and other diseases. This should be an urgent priority for all countries,” says Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of the WHO HIV/AIDS Department, in the press release.
A 2014 WHO report found that in 2010, at least 1.7 million people were infected with the hepatitis B virus by an unsafe injection. Unsafe injections were also responsible for at least 33,800 cases of HIV infections. They’re hoping the fulfillment of these new policies—which they hope will be fully implemented by 2020—will help stem the circulation of these infections.
Why has it taken this long to see this kind of change? Koska takes aim at the medical indutsry. He says his syringe has manufacturing costs that match the price of a regular syringe (around 5 cents) but medical manufacturers haven’t been convinced there’s a market for this kind of disposable technology.
“The core of it is that manufacturers have no incentive. Manufacturers control all this, as they have all the money,” he told The Guardian. “Syringes are a commodity. There is a very low margin on disposable medical products. So you say to the manufacturer, ‘let’s all make better products’, and they say ‘why?’ because there’s no guarantee that anyone is going to buy them.”