Injection Safety


I. Definition of Prevention Area

Addressing injection safety helps prevent the medical transmission of HIV and other blood-borne pathogens to patients and health care workers. Injection safety falls under the umbrella of health systems strengthening and encompasses safe medical injection, safe phlebotomy practices, safe disposal of health care waste, and the provision of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) following occupational exposure to HIV.

Many countries lack the policies and guidelines necessary to support injection safety practices. Health care workers without proper training and commodities for safe injection, infection control, and health care waste disposal practices may expose patients, providers, and communities to HIV.

In many countries, the problem of unsafe injections is further compounded by patients' and health care providers' perceptions, often culturally based, that injections are more effective than non-injection alternatives. Often, an economic incentive exists for health care providers to provide an injection because of higher fees for injection-based treatments. Further, health care providers are often not trained in injection safety or in counseling patients on non-injection treatment alternatives. Patients' high demand for injections and health workers' willingness to provide them results in a high volume of medically unnecessary injections. The number of phlebotomy and injection procedures performed has increased in recent years related to the rapid scale-up of prevention, testing, and treatment services provided by local governments and by programs funded through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). These factors create a greater need for new, sterile injection equipment and safe disposal strategies for the health care waste that is generated. Commodity procurement and distribution often reveal multiple, undocumented procurement mechanisms, insufficient planning, challenges with distribution, and lack of quality standards for injection equipment.

II. Epidemiological Justification for the Prevention Area

The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently engaged in an exercise to estimate the global burden of unsafe injection, the results of which are expected in 2011. Currently available data from WHO date to 2000. These data estimate that of the 16 billion injections administered annually in developing and transitional countries, at least 50 percent are unnecessary and unsafe; observations conducted between 1987 and 1998 found rates of unsafe injection higher than 50 percent in numerous countries. WHO estimates from 2000 indicate that unsafe injections are responsible for 5 percent of HIV infections, 32 percent of hepatitis B virus infections, and 40 percent of hepatitis C virus infections. Other data suggest a range of estimates with both higher and lower values; WHO's 2011 estimates are eagerly anticipated to resolve discrepant estimates and assess progress since 2000.

Over the last decade, evaluation data suggest that comprehensive injection safety programs have expanded the availability of guidelines, increased the use of new syringes and needles with every injection, improved health care waste management, and increased understanding of the importance of injection safety for patients, health care workers, and the wider community.

III. Core Programmatic Components

PEPFAR activities are based on the strategy recommended by WHO and the Safe Injection Global Network to reduce unsafe and unnecessary injections and limit the transmission of HIV, which has been expanded to include:

IV. Current Status of Implementation Experience

Since 2004, PEPFAR has supported initiatives to prevent the medical transmission of HIV in Africa and the Caribbean by implementing comprehensive injection safety programs that include the elements previously delineated. Five-year follow-up assessments in 11 of the countries awarded PEPFAR funding for injection safety indicate that progress has been made; for example, almost all the countries developed a national injection safety policy and health care waste management plan. In addition, all countries have increased ownership of and sustained their injection safety initiatives through multidisciplinary participation in injection safety committees. Follow-up assessments conducted at intervention facilities also indicate a reduction in needle stick injury as reported by health workers, attributed to improved training in core practices such as not recapping used needles and properly disposing of used needles/syringes immediately in a sharps container.

Countries have developed tools for monitoring the use of safe injection and health care waste management supplies. These tools provide accurate data on the consumption of supplies and are used at the country level to advocate for resources for commodities. Logistics managers use the data to manage commodities proactively and ensure that commodities are available at service delivery points. Countries have been introduced to single-use safe injection technologies, and many countries have transitioned to self-procurement of these commodities.

The number of health care facilities that practice proper health care waste segregation in countries with injection safety programs has increased. Capacity building efforts have enabled national and local partners to develop health care waste management plans and advocate for resources. Health care workers have been increasingly sensitized to the critical role that everyone at a health facility--not just waste handlers--can play in health care waste management.

Advocacy efforts to government ministries have been effective in bringing necessary resources to support injection safety efforts. For example, some governments now vaccinate health care workers against hepatitis B and provide personal protective equipment. Injection safety projects and their partners have trained health care workers on PEP treatment guidelines and have advocated to assure the availability of PEP to health care workers.

Phlebotomy, which poses a recognized HIV risk for health care workers, was not initially included in PEPFAR's injection safety initiatives. Country-specific data assessing the burden of phlebotomy on HIV transmission are generally unavailable to inform development of a strategy for safe practices. While guidelines on safe phlebotomy practices were developed by WHO in 2010, work remains at the country level to assess current practices and develop a response.

Best injection safety practices developed under currently funded PEPFAR country programs could be modeled to improve injection safety in other countries. While injection safety efforts began following a vertical model, this issue is cross-cutting and there must be movement toward integration as a component of efforts to strengthen health systems.

What we know

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Putting it into practice

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Tools and Curricula

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Learn more

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Injection Safety Page

This Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website has information for both providers and patients, including educational materials, presentations, and frequently asked questions. There are guidelines on preventing unsafe injection practices and an introduction to The One & Only Campaign, led by the CDC and the Safe Injection Practices Coalition to promote safe injections. Recent publications related to injection safety are also available for download from the website.

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Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization

This website has information about the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) support for injection safety in immunization programs. There is information about GAVI funding toward the cost of adequate supplies of auto-disable syringes, reconstitution syringes, and safety boxes for national immunization programs. The site also contains a report produced in 2009 evaluating GAVI's injection safety support efforts.

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Health Care Without Harm

Health Care Without Harm's website details the work done by this nongovernmental organization and its partners to promote health care practices that do not contribute to disease or ecological damage. Medical waste management is a key issue, and the site has information on waste minimization, alternatives to incineration, and a medical waste project in the Philippines that demonstrates how medical waste from a large-scale immunization campaign can be handled responsibly and safely without recourse. There are downloadable resources on a range of medical waste management issues including a global inventory of alternative medical waste treatment technologies and the health impact of incinerators.

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Making Medical Injections Safer Project

John Snow, Inc.

This website comprises an overview of the Making Medical Injections Safer (MMIS) project and country program highlights with reports from 11 countries in Africa and the Caribbean. Project information includes an overview of technical information on sustainable approaches to injection safety supported by MMIS, program achievements, and lessons learned. There is a wide range of resources including training manuals, guidelines, reference materials, and materials for advocacy and behavior change communication.

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U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Issue Brief: Medical Injection Safety

This web page details the involvement of the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in medical injection safety programs in 16 countries, including support for national safe injection policies, adoption of safe injection practices, purchase of safe injection equipment, and facilities for safe sharps waste disposal. The page cites examples of PEPFAR-supported projects to reduce excessive injections in Namibia and Uganda, sharps waste management training for health care workers in Tanzania, and safe sharps disposal in Kenya. The site also has links to useful resources from USAID and other organizations.

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SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands: The World Health Organization's Global Annual Campaign

This section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website promotes its annual hand hygiene campaign, SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands, including resources to support national hand hygiene activities and advocacy resources for use in health care settings. Key documents on the site include the WHO guidelines on hand hygiene, and an implementation guide for WHO's multimodal hand hygiene improvement strategy. There are hand hygiene-related videos and tools for specific topics, including alcohol hand rub costing, evaluation and feedback, and workplace hand hygiene reminders. The information center contains locally adapted tools and media materials.

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SIGNpost Forum

Safe Injection Global Network/World Health Organization.

The home page of the SIGNpost forum provides access to the Safe Injection Global Network (SIGN) Internet forum, where subscribers can post messages, comments, and requests for technical information relating to injection safety. Subscribers can receive a weekly email newsletter on safe and appropriate use of injections. The site also has a link to SIGNpost archives and files.

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Technical Network for Strengthening Immunization Services


This website provides a forum for discussion, debate, and information sharing on the delivery of immunization services. There are reports from TechNet21's consultation meetings, operations, and surveys, and the website's e-forum enables professionals to share ideas via online forums and discussions. The tools and resources page includes a database of experts, job announcements, reference documents, and tools for resource planning and staff training. There is an extensive library of immunization-related books and research papers, as well as immunization fact sheets from 16 Asia-Pacific countries, a news page, and links to useful websites.

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Injection Safety; The Dangers of Unnecessary Medical Injections and Mishandling of Medical Waste

U.S. Agency for International Development.

This website provides information about injection safety interventions supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, including the Making Medical Injections Safer project, which runs injection safety program in 11 countries in Africa and the Caribbean. There is also a report on a health care waste management project in Uganda run by U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief partners.

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World Health Organization Patient Safety

This section of the World Health Organization website gives access to a wealth of patient safety information and resources, from research to education and training. Much of the material is useful for health care workers, including introductory online courses, curriculum guides for teaching patient safety to medical students, and tools to support implementing change in patient safety practices. However, there are also resources for patients such as details of national patient safety workshops and events. An information center brings together a wide range of resources on patient safety, comprising both written materials and visual media.

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World Health Organization/Safe Injection Global Network

This website introduces the Safe Injection Global Network (SIGN) and provides access to its meeting reports and weekly electronic newsletters. It is also a focal point for the World Health Organization's (WHO's) training tools and publications on injection safety, including the WHO best practices for injections and related procedures toolkit, the Tool C injection safety assessment tool, and related information.

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