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Marc Koska: 1.3m reasons to re-invent the syringe

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Twenty-five-and-a-quarter years ago I read a newspaper article which said that one day syringes would be one of the major causes of the spread of AIDS, the transmission of AIDS. I thought this was unacceptable. So I decided to do something about it.

Sadly, it's come true. Malaria, as we all know, kills approximately one million people a year. The reuse of syringes now exceeds that and kills 1.3 million people a year. This young girl and her friend that I met in an orphanage in Delhi were HIV positive from a syringe. And what was so sad about this particular story was that once their parents had found out -- and don't forget, their parents took them to the doctor -- the parents threw them out on the street. And hence they ended up in an orphanage.

And it comes from situations like this where you have either skilled or unskilled practitioners, blindly giving an injection to someone. And the injection is so valuable, that the people basically trust the doctor, being second to God, which I've heard many times, to do the right thing. But in fact they're not. And you can understand, obviously, the transmission problem between people in high-virus areas.

This video we took undercover, which shows you, over a half an hour period, a tray of medicines of 42 vials, which are being delivered with only 2 syringes in a public hospital in India. And over the course of half an hour, not one syringe was filmed being unwrapped. They started with two and they ended with two. And you'll see, just now, a nurse coming back to the tray, which is their sort of modular station, and dropping the syringe she's just used back in the tray for it to be picked up and used again. So you can imagine the scale of this problem. And in fact in India alone, 62 percent of all injections given are unsafe.

These kids in Pakistan don't go to school. They are lucky. They already have a job. And that job is that they go around and pick up syringes from the back of hospitals, wash them, and in the course of this, obviously picking them up they injure themselves. And then they repackage them and sell them out on markets for literally more money than a sterile syringe in the first place, which is quite bizarre. In an interesting photo, their father, while we were talking to him, picked up a syringe and pricked his finger -- I don't know whether you can see the drop of blood on the end -- and immediately whipped out a box of matches, lit one, and burned the blood off the end of his finger, giving me full assurance that that was the way that you stopped the transmission of HIV.

In China, recycling is a major issue. And they are collected en mass -- you can see the scale of it here -- and sorted out, by hand, back into the right sizes, and then put back out on the street. So recycling and reuse are the major issues here. But there was one interesting anecdote that I found in Indonesia. In all schools in Indonesia, there is usually a toy seller in the playground. The toy seller, in this case, had syringes, which they usually do, next door to the diggers, which is obviously what you would expect. And they use them, in the breaks, for water pistols. They squirt them at each other, which is lovely and innocent. And they are having great fun. But they also drink from them while they're in their breaks, because it's hot. And they squirt the water into their mouths. And these are used with traces of blood visible.

So we need a better product. And we need better information. And I think, if I can just borrow this camera, I was going to show you my invention, which I came up with. So, it's a normal-looking syringe. You load it up in the normal way. This is made on existing equipment in 14 factories that we license. You give the injection and then put it down. If someone then tries to reuse it, it locks and breaks afterwards. It's very, very simple. Thank you. (Applause) And it costs the same as a normal syringe. And in comparison, a Coca-Cola is 10 times the price. And that will stop reusing a syringe 20 or 30 times.

And I have an information charity which has done huge scale amount of work in India. And we're very proud of giving information to people, so that little kids like this don't do stupid things. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Video Details

Duration: 4 minutes and 25 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDTalks
Views: 336
Posted by: tedtalks on Oct 21, 2009

Reuse of syringes, all too common in under-funded clinics, kills 1.3 million each year. Marc Koska clues us in to this devastating global problem with facts, photos and hidden-camera footage. He shares his solution: a low-cost syringe that can't be used twice.

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