Christian Long

Marc Koska: 1.3m Reasons to Re-invent the Syringe

In TED Talks on April 11, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Reflection by GABRIELLA B.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Marc Koska: 1.3m Reasons to Re-invent the Syringe


You’ve been to the hospital, or the clinic before.

Think about it.  It was probably immaculately clean, the walls were a neutral, mint green, or pale blue, perhaps, a nice beige. You can smell the antiseptic, and hear hushed muted noises all around.

The crinkle of white paper on examination tables, the ring of the phone from the office. The soft beeping and clicking of expensive machines you barely understand the purpose of. A few people are wandering about the ever frigid halls avoiding nurses and doctors hurrying about authoritatively in crisp white coats or pale blue scrubs. Worried relatives are sitting in plushy chairs leafing through decade old magazines.

Now imagine with me a hot stuffy room. The light is dim through the slightly grimy windows and you can hear the discordant cacophony of the busy street just outside the door. Besides that, the room is full to bursting with sickly people all desperate for a life saving injection, from doctors and nurses who may or may not be trained. It’s dusty and hot, the beds are little more than cots placed in rows to get as many as possible in the already small rooms.

That is what you’d see if you happened to be in any of the poorer sectors of Asia. AIDS and many other viruses are rampant in these areas and are spreading with the help of well meaning doctors and nurses.

How could this be happening? It’s really as simple as a syringe. You know what I’m talking about. You probably have one or two in your kitchen drawers. The issue most developing countries face is that not only are these syringes being reused but there is a business in the collection and repackaging of used syringes.

This places massive risks on a single, life saving shot. Aside from the obvious problem of sanitation there is also the issue of cross contamination of medicines and the side effects of a bad mix.

As Koska explains many of the patients view doctors as ‘next to God’ and trust them to do the right thing. He tells the story of some children in Pakistan whose job is to collect used syringes from the back of hospitals, wash them, repackage them and sell them for more than what a sterilized syringe costs. In china this is even more of a problem. One story of an Indonesian school is particularly appalling of children being given used syringes to play with and then using them to drink from.

So what can be done to prevent the annual death of 3.1 million people due to the reuse of syringes? The answer proved surprisingly simple. As Koska demonstrates the answer was there the entire time, we only needed someone who cared enough about the problem to start acting on the solution.

He has developed a syringe that looks and works just like an ordinary syringe, and is even made in the same machines as ordinary syringes at the same cost. The crucial difference is that his syringes lock in place and break if an attempt at reuse is made.

Simple, no?

So I guess the question we have to ask ourselves now, is why it took 1.3 million deaths for someone to care enough?

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