Needle-Free Alternatives to Syringes for Developing Countries

Vaccination is one of the most successful and potent methods of combating viral and infectious diseases today. In fact, the most effective method of prevention against many potentially epidemic diseases is vaccination.

The administration of vaccines is largely through injection of the vaccine intravenously or intramuscularly. The process of vaccination involves introducing into the body an innocuous form of the infection- certain cellular products of the disease-causing microbe or virus that is not capable of reproducing or spreading. This stimulates the production of antibodies against the particular infection the vaccine is targeting.

As successful as vaccination is, the method of delivery of the vaccine that is a syringe can have notoriously harmful implications. The traditional syringe uses a needle that is injected into the body and therefore comes in contact with the patient’s blood. This contact with blood can be very dangerous if proper precautions are not taken, as blood serum can transfer many viral diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

The proper usage of medical syringes includes their proper sterilization before injecting a patient, which is done by the manufacturing companies. To ensure that the needle is completely free of any microbial or viral agents, the syringe needs to be used right after packaging is removed. Moreover, used syringes should never be used on another individual.

These precautions are vital to ensuring the safety of patients being vaccinated and is standard medical procedure. However, in many developing countries, syringes are reused on other patients, especially where effective regulation is lacking. Illegal businesses have been found guilty of taking used syringes, ineffectively sterilizing them and reselling them for use. This misuse of syringe needles leads to approximately 1 million deaths per year. It is also one of the leading causes of HIV/AIDS, with 10 percent of cases of HIV/AIDS in the United States being the consequence of intravenous drug use with unclean syringes.

One of the solutions to these problems is obviously to enforce tighter regulations, ensuring contaminated syringes are disposed of properly so accessibility to those is reduced. Hospitals can enforce stricter sterilization policies. However, these policies are not very likely to be effective, especially in poorer countries who may lack resources for enforcing these regulations. Moreover, limiting the access to used syringes for drug users can be particularly problematic.

Another solution to this problem is to eliminate the needles in syringes altogether. Recently, needle-free syringes have become popular alternatives for syringes. The needle-free syringe, as the name suggests, does not use a needle to inject the vaccine into the bloodstream. Instead, it uses a high-pressure gradient to force vaccine liquid into the tissue. The vaccine is forced at high pressure through the skin through an orifice of the syringe, which in modern syringes has been made as small as the diameter of a human hair. This method also distributes the medication or vaccine better through the tissue, as the medicine penetrates through the skin into the surrounding tissue. The syringe never comes into contact directly with blood, so the risk of contamination is reduced. Also, the syringe is not suited for substance abuse, as those drugs are administered intravenously.

The needle-free syringes have been quite successful in their delivery of vaccines as well as their safety of usage. Different types of needle-free syringes have been developed for administering different types of drugs with increased efficiency. These syringes are more expensive than ordinary syringes, however. With increasing demand and development, it is probable the needle-free syringes would become as desirable in their cost as they are in their technique.

Atifah Safi

Sources: Bioject, MIT, WHO
Photo: Path