WHO adopts new safety needle policy, calling smart syringes an 'urgent priority'

"Smart" syringe available for a single use--Courtesy of WHO

Citing rampant use of the same needle to inject more than one person, the World Health Organization has--some might say finally--launched a new policy to make unsafe injections less prevalent. Part of this policy involves adopting up-to-date measures in syringe engineering, promoting the use of "smart" needles with precautions against unsafe use.

In a release, the WHO cited several cases in which unsafe injection protocol led to the unnecessary outbreak of infectious diseases. In 2007, a doctor in Nevada double-dipped hep C-contaminated syringes. In Cambodia, more than 200 children and adults tested positive for HIV, an outbreak that is thought to have occurred due to unsafe injections. In fact, a study mentioned by the Washington Post estimated that about a quarter of the 18 billion medical injections are performed with dirty needles.

To bring that number down, the WHO is now urging the adoption of syringes designed to protect both patients and physicians from contamination. Several options exist, including a syringe with a plunger that breaks if the user attempts to pull it back a second time. Some have a clip that blocks the same movement. And retracting needles can also prevent a second use.

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

The WHO has set a quick recommended deadline of 2020 for countries to transition to the new needles, calling on manufacturers to immediately expand production. Among the recommendations are standards for procurement, safe use and safe disposal for current syringe models.

Path's Soloshot--Courtesy of Path

The Washington Post looked into one Seattle nonprofit that has developed one of these technologies. Path, with its metal-clip syringe Soloshot, hit the market all the way back in 1990 and has been used to deliver more than 6 billion vaccine injections, according to the Post. But vaccines account for less than 10% of all injections worldwide.

The industry itself has been developing and selling these syringes for decades, with more than 70 suppliers out there for non-reusable models. And now that the WHO has boarded that ship after 25 years on the sidelines, that is now likely to pay off.

- here's the WHO release
- and the Washington Post story