The reuse and sharing of syringes and other injecting equipment by injecting drug users (IDUs) has been identified as a prime accelerant in HIV and hepatitis C cases worldwide. IDUs represent approximately 10% of HIV cases worldwide and one in every three new infections outside of Africa according to UNAIDS. Likewise, the majority of cases of hepatitis C are associated with injecting drug use. In the U.S., approximately 20% of HIV cases and the majority of hepatitis C cases are attributed to injecting drug use.
Under the banner of harm reduction, the governments of more than 65 countries including Australia, Canada and much of Western Europe have established needle and syringe programs (NSP) which seek to minimize the social and economic costs associated with the sharing, reuse and unsafe disposal of injecting equipment. NSPs are government sponsored programs which provide free or subsidized syringes as well as other injection and disposal equipment to IDUs to reduce the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C. With the recent lifting of a Federal Government ban on funding for needle exchange programs, the U.S. is also expected to accelerate IDU access to sterile injection equipment over the coming years.
However, evidence suggests that the provision of standard syringes to IDUs is not sufficient to contain the transmission of bloodborne diseases within this population. A significant portion of IDUs continue to reuse and share non-sterile syringes and other injection equipment even within countries such as Australia and the UK which offer an established network of NSP sites and services. The continued reuse, sharing and unsafe disposal of non-sterile syringes by IDUs represents a significant challenge to governments seeking to minimize the socio-economic costs of HIV and hepatitis C epidemics.
Unilife considers that the provision of syringes which automatically prevent reuse, encourage safe injection practices and protect those at risk of needlestick injury can help to enhance harm reduction policies and deliver a significant return on investment.