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Syringe Reuse – HIV Industry to Revise Finger Pointing Strategy in Africa?

The news that the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for exclusive use of auto-disable syringes, which are designed to break if reused, is probably the most significant advance in the reduction of HIV transmission in developing countries to be announced in many years. It should also reduce transmission of other blood-borne viruses, such as hepatitis B and C, also ebola and MERS.

The WHO has started their global campaign to increase awareness of the dangers of unsafe healthcare, especially through reused syringes, needles and other skin piercing equipment, and have issued a brochure on injection safety.

It’s lucky that the inventor of the K1 auto-disable syringe, Marc Koska, heard about the problem of reused injecting equipment in 1984. Only a few years later attention was drawn away from unsafe healthcare to unsafe sexual behavior as the main route of transmission for HIV.

Although HIV in wealthy countries now mainly infects men who have sex with men and people who inject illicit drugs, and this was already clear in the late 1980s, public health institutions decided to emphasize the risks people face from heterosexual sex.

Perhaps these institutions had their reasons, and the campaign was ‘successful’; many people all around the world still believe that heterosexual sex is the biggest risk for HIV. The risk to heterosexuals was, and is, very low, but few people around in the 1980s could forget the relentless scare campaigns.

But in poorer countries, most people becoming infected with HIV were clearly not men who had sex with men or injecting drug users. They were just ordinary people, many of whom who had never had sex, never had ‘unsafe’ sex, or only had sex with a person who was also HIV negative.

There were also a lot of infants infected by their mothers, and there still are, although the prevention of mother to child programs have been among the most successful in the history of HIV.

The issue of non-sexual transmission of HIV in developing countries remained ignored, even strenuously opposed by what became an enormous HIV industry. And so, those infected with the virus, and whose infants were infected with the virus, were accused of being promiscuous, careless, dishonest and even cruel to their family and those around them.

Perhaps this will herald in a new era, making it possible to raise the issue of non-sexual transmission of HIV through unsafe healthcare without accusations of denialism (although it seems to be the opposite of denial), being anti-scientific (although there is no shortage of evidence) or of diverting attention from the importance of sexual behavior, which was never as important as the massive scare campaigns would have us believe.

One newspaper article cites Koska as saying “I always wanted to be a superhero and save the world”. I don’t know if he really said that, but I’d like to believe he did. Because the benevolence of his motives contrast strongly with the apparent motives of certain parties in the burgeoning HIV industry, for whom HIV transmission is but a route to wealth, power and career advancement.

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