Poor needle safety leads to 15 deaths in South Sudan

Friday June 02 2017

Poor needle safety practices have contributed to the deaths of 15 children in South Sudan, highlighting the importance of sharps safety standards being followed across the globe.

A measles vaccination programme was being carried out in one area of the country, with 300 children receiving injections over the course of a four-day period. However, only one syringe was used during this time, despite the World Health Organization (WHO) recommending that needles should only be used once on one person before they are discarded.

Dr Riek Gai Kok, South Sudan's minister of health, explained: "A single reconstitution syringe was used for multiple vaccine vials for the entire four days of the immunisation campaign instead of being discarded after a single use.

"The use of the reconstitution syringe causes it to become contaminated, which in turn contaminates the measles vaccine vials and infects the vaccinated children."

The children's bloodstreams would have been made more vulnerable after being exposed to the measles virus anyway, but sharing the needle between hundreds of patients is likely to have exposed some to life-threatening blood-borne infections such as hepatitis C and HIV as well.

More than 50 children in the village when the immunisation programme was taking place fell ill due to the use of the contaminated needle, developing fevers, diarrhoea and vomiting, with 15 sadly passing away as a result of their symptoms.

The South Sudan Ministry of Health, WHO and UNICEF have said that they regret the incident, but want it to raise awareness of the importance of following sharps safety procedures to healthcare workers around the world.

Needles and syringes should only ever be used once and broken or contaminated ones should always be disposed of in a designated sharps bin to prevent injuries and the transmission of infections.

There are specialist sharps safety caps available that prevent needles from being used more than once or if they are damaged in order to safeguard people's health and prevent the spread of infection, with the unfortunate incident in South Sudan highlighting the importance of these being rolled out to underdeveloped countries.