Yesterday we looked at Embrace, the company that is trying to revolutionise infant care in the developing world with the $25 incubator. Another inspiring innovation in the space of healthcare, which I find to be Design marvel, is another idea aimed to save lives in poor countries.
Each year, 17 billion injections are given around the world, more than 7 billion of which are “unsafe”. An unsafe injection occurs when a needle or syringe is reused between patients without sterilisation. The transmission of hepatitis B and C and the HIV virus are particularly common. Unsafe injection practices are conservatively estimated to account for more than 1.3 million deaths and $535 million in unnecessary costs each year.
Despite growing recognition regarding the harmful effects of unsafe injections, these practices persist. In places such as India, more than 62% of all injections were deemed unsafe according to a study conducted by the India CLEN Program Evaluation Network on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Government of India, and World Bank. Unsafe practices were the highest at immunisation centres (74%), followed by government health facilities (68.7%), and private clinics (59.9%).
Marc Koska and Design Thinking
Safepoint founder Marc Koska was seeking to reduce the transmission of blood-born diseases through the reuse of syringes. In 1984, Koska committed himself to addressing the threat of unsafe injections after reading a newspaper article that predicted the proliferation of HIV through the unsafe use of medical syringes. He spent nearly 10 years in the field, investigating all aspects of the problem: clinical behaviour, drug use, patient activity, syringe manufacturing/moulding, distribution, disposal, procurement, public health, policy, and funding.
Based on this research and Insights, Koska concluded that syringe manufacture was the key to the problem. And he came up with the K1 Auto Disable (AD) syringe, which physically prevents reuse by locking the plunger once it has been fully depressed. Koska’s design was not the first AD syringe, but it was intentionally simple to help keep costs low, and engineered to fit on standard syringe manufacturing machines to prevent companies from having to invest in new manufacturing equipment. He patented the K1 in 1997 and established Star Syringe as a vehicle for openly licensing the technology.
The main reason his design did not take off straight away? It was too disruptive. Traditionally, syringes would be made for 3 cents and sold for 5, but producers hike up the cost of the rest of their medical equipment and sell syringes at little profit as an incentive for buyers to stick with them.
By the mid-2000s, Star Syringe had 9 to 10 licensees that had collectively
sold roughly 2 billion syringes around the word. This approach to design an entirely new auto-disabled syringe that breaks automatically after first use was revolutionary and disruptive. This disruptive design has the potential to significantly reduce the more than 7 billion unsafe injections given every year.
In November 2008, Koska and a SafePoint Trust team led a major media and public-awareness campaign throughout India in an attempt to do something about the prevalence of unsafe injections and the resultant illness and death that they cause in that country. They travelled throughout India giving their One Injection, One Syringe message to the media at press conferences for over a week. In addition, a specially made PSA entitled Sachin (in both English and Hindi) was repeatedly shown on television channels, radio stations and cinemas across the country. Watch the Sachin PSA in English; Sachin PSA in Hindi. As a result, SafePoint’s message achieved widespread coverage throughout India.
SafePoint recognised that new syringes were only one part of the solution. One must also teach the public about the dangers of reusing needles. In 2005 Koska founded The SafePoint Trust, a registered charity dedicated to educating children about this issue.