For health care professionals, such as certified medical assistants, there’s nothing more important than ensuring patients are safe from infection during standard procedures such as vaccinations, surgeries and other medical procedures.
However, according to the World Health Organization, reusing needles is one of the driving factors behind the spread of infectious diseases for millions of citizens across the globe.1
For this reason, the WHO, in collaboration with several other organizations, is launching a new policy and campaign endorsing smart syringes that can only be used once. If these devices become a standard worldwide, it could potentially greatly reduce the spread of infectious diseases.
The New Policy
In a press release, the WHO notes that syringe safety has been a priority since the year 2000 and that it has been urging the use of automatic one-use syringes since 1999.1 However, the organization also points out that smart syringes cost approximately double the price of regular ones that can be used repeatedly. Though the syringes may be more expensive, the WHO believes the initial investment would not only provide safer injections for millions of people, but would also be cheaper than treating the spread of disease.
According to BBC News, more than two million people are infected with diseases such as HIV and hepatitis each year from reused syringes.2 The new policy focuses on the safety value of smart syringes, which include features to protect health care workers from accidental infection as well. The policy also emphasizes a continuing trend of decreasing injections overall. Currently, the WHO estimates about 16 billion injections are given each year.1
Dr. Edward Kelley, the WHO Service Delivery and Safety Department Director, stated in the press release, “We know the reasons why this is happening. One reason is that people in many countries expect to receive injections, believing they represent the most effective treatment. Another is that for many health workers in developing countries, giving injections in private practice supplements salaries that may be inadequate to support their families.”1
There are several different designs of smart syringes available, but the general concept behind the technology is to prevent the possibility of reuse. For example, one model breaks if the practitioner tries to pull back the plunger second use. Another model retracts the needle back into the plunger. Some models also contain a shield feature, in which a barrier is formed over the needle after injection to prevent accidental pricks for health care workers disposing of syringes. Ideally, widespread implementation of these syringes will eventually make them the only available option, and the WHO believes as demand increases the price will in turn decrease.1
Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of the WHO HIV/AIDS Department, explained, “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.”1
The organization is encouraging manufacturers to begin producing smart syringes immediately and strives to have these devices in every country around the world by 2020. The WHO also wants to develop safer disposal strategies and make continuing education regarding syringe safety a priority for health care workers worldwide. Limiting the spread of infectious diseases via reused syringes and accidental needle pricks worldwide will be a continuing priority for medical personnel in the coming years. As smart syringes become the norm, it will ideally provide a safer environment for both patients and health care workers.
1 “WHO calls for worldwide use of “smart” syringes,” World Health Organization Press Release, Feb. 23, 2015. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/injection-safety/en/
2 “WHO urges shift to single-use smart syringes,” by James Gallagher, BBC Health News, Feb. 23, 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-31550817