News | 22 Feb 2023
South Africa has a growing number of injecting drug users, a worrying development for a number of reasons: it can lead to the spread of blood borne diseases like HIV and Hepatitis and once people who use drugs transition to injecting from other kinds of drug use, their chances of overdose increase. Furthermore, without proper infrastructure for the disposal of injecting equipment, the broader community will be met with an environmental health problem – exposure to ‘sharps’ (needles and other sharp objects used for injecting) that are contaminated. Organisations working with people who use drugs (PWUD) take responsibility for the safe disposal of sharps through their needle syringe programmes where injecting drug users are provided with individual sharps disposal containers that they must return when they collect new needles and syringes.
However, there are currently no sharp disposal mechanisms in South Africa which are accessible in public places, designed to suit our local context, and meet international standards. This means that needles and syringes are poorly disposed of, creating a medical waste problem for the drug use community, waste pickers, cleaners, and for the broader community. NACOSA approached the Urban Futures Centre (UFC) at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) in 2021 about the need to develop sharp disposal bins for South Africa . This lead to a partnership between NACOSA, the DUT and the South African Network of People Who Use Drugs (SANPUD) to design a South African disposal bin for local public spaces.
Mechanical engineering and architecture students at DUT participated in a competition, which included:
The students took it to another level and also manufactured prototypes. The winning design will be considered for testing in designated public spaces and will most likely become the model for sharps disposal mechanisms country-wide. Seven teams started the project with the first prize awarded to an orange Afro-centric device with sanitising spray. It was simple, functional, cost effective and the sanitising spray offered an additional benefit. The next steps will be to pilot the placement of these containers within a few districts to help reduce the incidence of HIV and viral Hepatitis infections from needle stick injuries and showcasing how PWUD are holding themselves accountable and promoting safe practices and public safety.