The K1 Syringe

Selected by Marc Koska

The alarm bells first rang back in ‘84. The article predicted—accurately, as it turned out—that HIV would spread via unsafe injections like a bush fire. Appalled at the prospect of such an avoidable catastrophe, I decided there and then to try and do something about it. I’d never had a sense of purpose before. At 23, after drifting through school and various jobs, my sense of direction didn’t go far beyond crewing yachts around the Caribbean.

My ignorance of healthcare systems and syringes was complete—and the only thing I’d ever manufactured was excuses. But at least I realised it. So I set about learning. I read everything I could on the transmission of viruses like HIV. I found out how UK drug addicts used syringes. I went to Geneva to learn about public health policy.

An inexpensive, non-reusable syringe seemed to be the answer, so I mugged up on every relevant patent and syringe design. I went to see lots of syringe factories, and I studied plastic injection moulding technologies.

The quest was to develop a syringe that could be made of the same materials on existing assembly equipment and used in exactly the same way as a conventional syringe—but with one minor, negligible cost modification that would make re-use impossible. A syringe that would work once, and then fail. The K1 Syringe was the result. And today, 27 years later, millions are used every week.

So far so good, then. But safe syringes aren’t a solution to ignorance or indifference to unsafe practice. That takes education. Patients and healthcare professionals alike have to be made aware of the life-threatening consequences of reusing any instrument that comes into contact with blood. That’s why I formed the SafePoint charity in 2006. Parenthood only reinforces your determination to protect other families from what is, after all, an entirely preventable human tragedy. Preventable tragedy makes me angry—as I’m sure it does you. It’s a terrible waste. And there’s still so much more to be done…

About Marc Koska

Marc Koska is a designer, inventor and social entrepreneur. His invention, the K1 Syringe, saves millions of lives every year. His syringe, made by Star Syringe Ltd, can only be used once, preventing the reuse of unclean syringes. He is also the founder of SafePoint, a charity dedicated to educating those in the developing world about the dangers of unsafe injections. Marc has won many awards for his work including British Invention of the Year in 2004 and The Economist Innovation Award for Social and Economic Innovation in 2011. Marc received an OBE in 2006.