Amid an ongoing investigation into the massive HIV outbreak in Battambang’s Roka commune, health officials yesterday said that they are requesting that auto-disabled syringes be exclusively used for administering injections in Cambodia.
The plan comes after the World Health Organization released new injection safety guidelines on Monday, urging all countries to, by 2020, universally adopt the modern syringes, which disable after a single use.
“We’re working towards using these new syringes across the board so that we can avoid the transmission of any diseases from injection re-use . . . especially after the HIV situation in Battambang,” said the Ministry of Health’s Department of Hospital Services director Dr Sok Srun, adding that the country’s National Immunisation Program already uses the syringes.
Tainted injections administered by an unlicensed doctor have been identified as the prime reason behind the Battambang outbreak, where 236 people had been deemed HIV-positive as of February 13.
A 2014 study sponsored by WHO showed that in 2010 alone, unsafe injections worldwide were estimated to have infected 1.7 million people with the Hepatitis B virus, up to 315,000 with Hepatitis C virus and as many as 33,800 with HIV.
“This is a part of our new strategic plan to not only prevent the re-use of needles, but also reduce overuse of unnecessary injections, protect health care workers from accidental needle-stick injuries and improve safe needle waste management,” said Dr Momoe Takeuchi, WHO Cambodia’s acting health systems team leader.
The new “smart” syringe has features that prevent re-use, such as a metal clip that blocks the plunger so it can’t be moved back or a needle that retracts into the syringe barrel after injections.
But while Cambodian health officials are eager to adopt the medical innovation, Srun said budget constraints prevent them from enforcing the shift. Ordinary syringes typically cost between $0.12 and $0.25, and modern syringes could cost at least twice that much.
“It’s easier to implement this in the private sector but not in public ones, because we have a limited budget and we have to see first what is essential,” Srun said.
Dr Chel Sarim of FHI 360, an international human development NGO, agreed. “This is a great idea but it’s going to be very costly, so there needs to be more financial help for this to be used nationally.”
According to Srun, the ministry’s central medicine committee is planning to discuss the matter during their annual meeting this year.