Chameleon Syringes

How does a design aesthetic save lives? It’s simpler than you might think. Take a basic medical syringe, add a twist of color-change technology, borrowed from the design world, and you get a device that can save 1.3 million lives each year.

From the Guardian:

You might not want to hear this, but there’s a good reason to be scared of needles: the most deadly clinical procedure in the world is a simple injection.

Every year, 1.3 million deaths are caused by unsafe injections, due to the reuse of syringes. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that up to 40% of the 40bn injections administered annually are delivered with syringes that have been reused without sterilisation, causing over 30% of hepatitis B and C cases and 5% of HIV cases – statistics that have put the problem at number five on the WHO priority list.

It is a call to arms that stirred Dr David Swann, reader in design at the University of Huddersfield, into action, to develop what he describes as a “behaviour-changing syringe” that would warn patients when the needle was unsafe – a design that is now in the running for the Index design awards.

“The difficulty for patients is that it is impossible to determine a visual difference between a used syringe that has been washed and a sterile syringe removed from its packaging,” says Swann. “Instigating a colour change would explicitly expose the risk and could indicate prior use without doubt.”

Keen to keep the price down to ensure accessibility, Swann turned to cheap technologies used in the food industry, using inks that react to carbon dioxide and packaging the syringes in nitrogen-filled packets – just the same as a bag of crisps. Once opened and exposed to the air, the syringe has a 60-second treatment window before turning bright red, while a faceted barrel design means that the piston will break if someone tries to replace it. Remarkably, the ABCs (A Behaviour Changing Syringe) cost only 0.16p more than a typical 2.5p disposable syringe.

Swann is trialling the product in India, as the country is the largest consumer of syringes in the world, accounting for 83% of all injections – over 60% of which are deemed unsafe, and 30% of which transmit a disease in some form, according to the WHO.

“There are landfill scavengers searching piles of waste for syringe devices that are then sold on to medical establishments,” says Swann. “We want to break that cycle.” He estimates that after five years, the ABCs will have prevented 700,000 unsafe injections, saved 6.5 million life years and saved $130m in medical costs in India alone.

Colour-changing technology is increasingly finding medical applications, as designers look to transfer innovations in reactive ink towards potentially lifesaving ends. Husband and wife doctor/designer duo Gautam and Kanupriya Goel have developed a form of packaging for medicine that gradually changes its pattern as the product expires.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Red for danger — ABCs syringe. Courtesy of David Swann / Guardian.