Health workers to adopt one-time use only smart syringes by 2020, even though they cost twice as much.

On Monday, the World Health Organization called on health care providers around the world to transition to smart syringes that are rendered unusable after a single use.

Using the same needle for multiple injections contributes to the spread of deadly diseases across the world. According to WHO estimates, 1.7 million people were infected with hepatitis B virus, up to 315,000 with hepatitis C virus and 33,800 with HIV in 2010 alone through reused needles.

This isn’t a problem limited to developing countries that reuse needles to save money. An outbreak of hepatitis C in Nevada was traced back to a doctor reusing an infected needle to deliver anesthesia to multiple patients in 2007.

Reuse won’t be an option with smart syringes. A few models are in the works, including a syringe that will break if the user attempts to pull back the plunger, one with a metal clip that blocks the plunger and one design causes the needle to retract into the tube after use.

The smart inoculations aren’t perfect. They leave little room for error, hamper the ability to mix medications and traditional syringes will still be necessary to treat patients who require intravenous lines.

The smart syringes are also far more expensive than the reusable ones they’ll replace, but that cost is minimal when compared to the price of treating those infected from needle-borne diseases.

The WHO has already seen some progress in developing countries after recommending single-use needles for vaccinations in 1999. The rate of HIV transmission dropped by 87 percent, according to a 2014 study. Health officials hope that self-destructing syringes could curb the rate even further, saving the lives of millions. 

An image of traditional syringes is featured at the top of the page. (Photo credit: iStock/zhuzhu)