THE government’s decision to completely ban the use of disposable syringes in favour of auto-disable ones is as welcome as it is desperately needed. The lack of vigilant monitoring of the health sector has led to a situation where harmful medical practices have become commonplace in a society where at least half the population remains uneducated and without access to adequate healthcare.

For example, there is a widely held belief among a cross section of the population that injections are more effective in treating all sorts of significant and even minor ailments. This misconception has been propagated by a large number of quacks operating in the country who prefer to ‘cure’ their patients with the needle. As a result, an average Pakistani is administered eight to 10 injections a year — the highest rate in the world, according to the WHO — and a whopping 94pc of these are not even medically required. This phenomenon, combined with the prevalence of quacks and under-qualified doctors who either unknowingly or knowingly reuse medical equipment — especially disposable syringes meant for single use — creates conditions ripe for the transmission of serious blood-borne diseases. These factors have largely contributed to the high prevalence of hepatitis C and rising incidence of HIV/AIDS in the country. According to UNAIDS, Pakistan has the fastest-growing number of AIDS cases among all Asian countries. In fact, the large outbreak of HIV/AIDS in Ratodero in 2019, when more than 1,440 people were infected with HIV, owed to the reuse of disposable syringes by a local doctor. Among those who became infected, more than 1,000 were children. Meanwhile, the country also has one of the highest prevalence rates of hepatitis C at 9pc. Between 12m and 15m people in Pakistan are reportedly infected with hepatitis B or C, both blood-borne, while around 150,000 new cases are reported every day in hospitals across the country. Against this background, the introduction of the auto-disable syringe — which has a plunger that gets irreversibly locked when pushed to the bottom — will prevent quacks, health workers, drug users, etc from reusing syringes, thus reducing the transmission of a plethora of blood-borne infections. The Sindh government had attempted to implement similar measures a decade ago but failed. However, now that a policy decision has been taken at the federal level, one hopes that auto-disable syringes will considerably reduce the disease burden and the heavy load of patients at government hospitals and national disease control programmes.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2022

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