A public health nurse with the Knox County Health Department prepares to administer the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine during an immunization clinic on May 28, 2014.
Photo by Noah Addis for NBC News

World Health Organization pushes for ‘smart’ syringes


Doctors with the World Health Organization (WHO) are pushing for “smart” syringes and arguing that such a practice is “absolutely critical” for stopping the spread of deadly infectious diseases from one person to another.

The use of the same syringe to give multiple people injections is spreading deadly diseases, the WHO wrote Monday in a statement, adding that if all health care providers administered syringes that can’t be used more than once, millions of people worldwide could be protected from infections acquired through unsafe injections.

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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. This should be an urgent priority for all countries,” Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, director of the WHO HIV/AIDS Department, wrote in the statement.

The call to action came as more than 120 people from 17 states and Washington, D.C., were diagnosed with the measles in a month. Health officials have said that most people infected were not vaccinated, which led to a debate that has become a hot-button issue among lawmakers. The anti-vaccination movement has grown in recent years, as some parents believe that vaccines are linked to autism or other problems, despite science overwhelmingly deeming the injections safe.

So-called “smart” syringes include features that prevent re-use. Some models cause the plunger to break if the doctor attempts to pull back on the plunger after the injection. Others have a metal clip that blocks the plunger so it can’t be moved back.

A recent study sponsored by the WHO estimated that as many as 1.7 million people were infected with the Hepatitis B virus, 315,000 with the Hepatitis C virus, and 33,800 people with HIV through an unsafe injection in 2010.

Traditional syringes cost as much as $0.04 when obtained  by a United Nations agency for a developing country. The new “smart” syringes cost at least twice that much. WHO is asking donors to support the transition to these devices, anticipating that prices will decline over time as demand increases.

WHO urges countries to transition to “smart” syringes by 2020.

WHO launched the new policy and global campaign along with the IKEA Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to help all countries tackle the pervasive issue of unsafe injections.