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Bull World Health Organ. 1999; 77(10): 789–800.
PMCID: PMC2557743

Unsafe injections in the developing world and transmission of bloodborne pathogens: a review.

Abstract

Unsafe injections are suspected to occur routinely in developing countries. We carried out a literature review to quantify the prevalence of unsafe injections and to assess the disease burden of bloodborne infections attributable to this practice. Quantitative information on injection use and unsafe injections (defined as the reuse of syringe or needle between patients without sterilization) was obtained by reviewing the published literature and unpublished WHO reports. The transmissibility of hepatitis B and C viruses and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was estimated using data from studies of needle-stick injuries. Finally, all epidemiological studies that linked unsafe injections and bloodborne infections were evaluated to assess the attributable burden of bloodborne infections. It was estimated that each person in the developing world receives 1.5 injections per year on average. However, institutionalized children, and children and adults who are ill or hospitalized, including those infected with HIV, are often exposed to 10-100 times as many injections. An average of 95% of all injections are therapeutic, the majority of which were judged to be unnecessary. At least 50% of injections were unsafe in 14 of 19 countries (representing five developing world regions) for which data were available. Eighteen studies reported a convincing link between unsafe injections and the transmission of hepatitis B and C, HIV, Ebola and Lassa virus infections and malaria. Five studies attributed 20-80% of all new hepatitis B infections to unsafe injections, while three implicated unsafe injections as a major mode of transmission of hepatitis C. In conclusion, unsafe injections occur routinely in most developing world regions, implying a significant potential for the transmission of any bloodborne pathogen. Unsafe injections currently account for a significant proportion of all new hepatitis B and C infections. This situation needs to be addressed immediately, as a political and policy issue, with responsibilities clearly defined at the global, country and community levels.

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