Former painter's life-saving invention approved by World Health Organisation

A British painter and decorator-turned-inventor has spoken of his pride as his one-use syringe that has been 30 years in the making has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation.

Marc Koska, 53, said he had the idea to create an auto-disable syringe which effectively breaks after use after reading a newspaper article about the spread of HIV through shared needles.

The design that he eventually came up with – the Lifesaver Syringe – is already being used in dozens of developing countries where it has saved countless lives.

The new WHO policy will mean that all countries around the world have to use so-called “smart” syringes by 2020, while it is encouraging manufacturers to start making them as soon as possible.

A recent WHO-sponsored study estimated that in 2010, up to 1.7 million people were infected with hepatitis B, up to 315,000 with hepatitis C virus and as many as 33,800 had HIV transmitted through unsafe injections.

Mr Koska, who also formed the SafePoint charity in 2006 to spread the message of the dangers of re-using needles, said he has been to 64 developing countries in the last 10 years where he has seen his invention used on the ground.

“It’s hard to see the immediate health benefits,” he said.

“But I’ve seen lots of very delighted nurses who have told me they’ve had to re-use syringes as ministries don’t buy enough or the lorries delivering them haven’t arrived, so we’ve had to make do.

“It’s been heart-wrenching.”

He described the endorsement of his syringe by the WHO as a “watershed moment”.

Mr Koska, from Danehill, East Sussex, said he developed the device while making a living as a painter and decorator.

He originally came up with the idea while working in the Caribbean in his early 20s, making models of crime scenes to be used in courts.

“I always wanted to be a superhero and save the world,” he said.

“From the age of six or seven I wondered how I could help and I knew I was good with my hands.

“It was the advent of HIV and Aids and I read in a newspaper that it was predicted that one day, syringe re-use would be a major transmission route for HIV.”

Mr Koska said the “clouds parted” and he then knew what he wanted to create.

He said he visited syringe factories around the world and studied plastic injection moulding until he eventually came up with the Lifesaver, which immediately breaks if the user tries to pull back the plunger for a second use.

The beauty of the device is its simple design, he said.

Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, director of the WHO HIV/Aids department, said implementation of the syringes “should be an urgent priority for all countries”.

“Adoption of safety-engineered syringes is absolutely critical to protecting people worldwide from becoming infected with HIV, hepatitis and other diseases,” he said as he made the announcement in Geneva.

Dr Edward Kelley, director of the WHO service delivery and safety department, said: “The new policy represents a decisive step in a long-term strategy to improve injection safety by working with countries worldwide.

“We have already seen considerable progress.”

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