By using the same syringe to give injections to multiple people, health practitioners around the world are significantly driving the spread of many deadly infectious diseases. In an effort to deal with this problem, the WHO is pushing for syringes that cannot be used more than once — and they want this worldwide switch to happen as early as 2020.

The numbers are actually quite staggering. A 2014 WHO-sponsored study estimated that in 2010, upwards of 1.7 million people were infected with hepatitis B, another 315,000 with hepatitis C, and as many as 33,8000 with HIV as the direct result of using contaminated syringes. What's more, of the 16 billion injections administered each year, many are unnecessary or could be replaced with oral alternatives.

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"Adoption of safety-engineered syringes is absolutely critical to protecting people worldwide from becoming infected with HIV, hepatitis and other diseases," noted Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of the WHO HIV/AIDS Department, in a statement. "This should be an urgent priority for all countries."

To make the smart syringes work, some models could include a weak spot in the plunger that causes it to break if the user tries to pull back on the plunger after an injection. Alternatively, the device could be equipped with a metal clip that prevents the plunger from moving back, or the needle could retract in the syringe barrel at the end of the injections. And to protect healthcare workers from accidentally infecting themselves with a contaminated needle, a sheath or hood could be applied over the needle after the injection.

The WHO is also calling for policies and standards for procurement, safe use, and safe disposal.

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Implementing worldwide use of smart syringes by 2020 will not be easy. It'll be crucial for all stakeholders to prevent shortfalls in supply during the transitionary phase. There's also the cost factor to consider. Normal syringes cost about $0.03 to $0.04, while the new syringes cost about twice that much. The WHO is asking donors to support the switch to the new devices.

[ World Health Organization ]

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