Single-use smart syringes could save over a million lives a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Dirty needles take the lives of 1.3 million people a year, due to contamination. Roughly five percent of all new HIV cases are caused by infected needles.
Marc Koska from England has spent 30 years trying to raise awareness of the benefits of single-use needles. He began his mission in 1984, while in the Caribbean, when he read newspaper accounts of how reusable needles would spread the HIV virus around the world.
"All the media could talk about was this new killer disease that was going to wipe out the planet," Koska said.
The World Health Organization announced new guidelines to ensure that every injection given worldwide will need to be safely engineered, and subject to sanitary standards. Previously, the group recommended that health care workers reuse needles up to 200 times. Health care leaders at WHO now believe that up to 40 percent of the 16 billion injections given around the world each year may be unsafe.
"A 2014 study sponsored by WHO, which focused on the most recent available data, estimated that in 2010, up to 1.7 million people were infected with hepatitis B virus, up to 315 000 with hepatitis C virus and as many as 33 800 with HIV through an unsafe injection," WHO officials reported.
The group also recommended that physicians and other health care professionals reduce the number of injections they provide. Roughly 90 percent of all injections given to patients involve medicines administered under the skin (subcutaneous or intradermal injections) or through a intramuscular route.
Many patients expect injections when they visit the doctors office, and believe such treatments provide the most effective treatment. Therefore, many health care workers administer shots, partly for a placebo effect, when oral medication can often be just as effective. In the developing world, many health care workers, living on minimal incomes, are paid additional money when they provide injections, increasing usage in those nations.
Smart syringes are designed to be impossible to reuse, and to protect those giving the injections. Some versions feature needles that retract into the syringe after drug delivery, while others provide clips or plungers that break, preventing plungers from being retracted.
Officials at WHO are calling for nearly all injections to be delivered through new smart syringes by the year 2020.
Health care costs in Africa could be reduced by as much as one billion dollars thorough reductions in needle-borne diseases, WHO officials estimate. Typical syringes cost between three and four cents each in Africa, while the new smart versions are priced at twice this figure.