5 percent of new HIV infections could be due to syringe re-use

Injections and needles are still not being used properly in African health facilities, putting millions of patients at risk of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, health experts warned at the Africa Health Conference in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

"Injections are being misused by quacks and even professionals, who use them as means of making money from patients, especially in poor countries where people perceive the syringe as a symbol of cure. In this kind of injection mania there is a need to put measures in place to ensure safety," said Susan Agunda, the Deputy Chief Nursing Officer in Kenya's Ministry of Health.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), in developing countries alone, 16 billion injections are administered each year, of which 90 percent are for curative purposes; 50 percent of the total number of injections are unsafe.

Disturbingly, about half the syringes used in Africa are re-used. Agunda called for health care workers to be adequately trained in the safe handling of needles and other injection equipment. "Just providing injection devices and not training health care workers on their proper use and disposal is not enough," she said.

"Most health care workers still resort to recapping of needles, which is very dangerous and leads to numerous accidental injuries, and puts health workers at risk of getting infections, including HIV and AIDS."

Conference delegates called on African governments to put in place national guidelines on injection and needle use. Staff shortages were also cited as a possible cause for unsafe injections in poor countries.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 5 percent of new HIV infections could be due to syringe re-use, and that 58 percent of health care workers report needle-stick injuries, in which they are accidentally pricked or scratched by an infected needle.

A study on injection safety in Kenya by the University of Nairobi found that 61 percent of nurses in the health facilities surveyed reported needle-stick injuries during a period of three months.

Syringes used by diabetic patients to inject insulin were finding their way onto the streets and were being used by injecting drug users, a major driver of new HIV infections. Agunda warned that quacks in rural areas and urban slums were jeopardizing people's lives through poor syringe disposal and re-use.

"In a bid to reduce their costs ... [they] could turn to syringe and needle re-use and infect a big number of people in such settings, and it is the reason there must adequate surveillance by governments in Africa to stem it." - PlusNews

June 2009

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