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Improving Community Safety

To creatively improve harm reduction and reduce the risks associated with using needles and syringes, NACOSA in partnership with Cape Town Central Improvement District (CCID), TB HIV Care and Durban University of Technology (DUT) are starting a pilot project that will introduce public sharps containers around South Africa. Public Sharp containers would be non-penetrable and tamper proof bins placed in dedicated public areas where injecting occurs that people who inject drugs can safely and correctly discard their needles and syringes.

NACOSA has been at the forefront of procuring and distributing  sterile needles and syringes through its district implementers to reduce HIV and Hepatitis C incidence with an impressive 89% return rate in City of Cape Town and national needle return rate of 77% that is above global average. While these return rates are commendable, in light of number of harm reduction pack confiscation by the public and client disposal due to fear of unlawful arrests of those found with needles and syringes, the need for accessible sharps disposal bins has become apparent. Public sharp containers that are cost-effective, safe, durable, and compliant with international guidelines. It must also fit in smoothly with the distinctive built environment of South Africa and meet the particular needs of the local population.

NACOSA partnered with SANPUD and the Durban University of Technology (DUT) to host a design competition for final-year DUT Mechanical Engineering students. The winning design is to be adapted in agreement with a Task team that includes Department of Health, City of Cape Town Environmental Health and Department of Environmental Affairs and then will undergo testing in designated public spaces and serve as the blueprint for sharps disposal mechanisms nationwide.

The key design criteria for these sharps containers include robust and vandal-resistant construction, accommodation of an internal container in line with disposal guidelines, weather resistance, child safety features, and a non-return chute for sharps deposit. Additionally, the containers will be clearly marked as sharps-only disposal units, distinct from other public bins. Each access point will be secured and inaccessible without a key. Stakeholder feedback, including municipal considerations, design aesthetics, location appropriateness, security, waste disposal, and law enforcement and private security buy-in, will continue to shape and refine this pioneering project. A risk management plan will be developed alongside Environmental Health and collaboration with other CID partners such as VCRID and CCID to bolster security measures. A community hotline will be established to report any misuse of the public sharp containers.

One of the examples of sharp container designs

This pilot of public sharps containers represents a significant step towards a safer, more responsible approach to needle disposal in South Africa to reduce the risks associated with drug use, and its success could serve as a model for other regions grappling with similar challenges. Given that there is currently no comparable device in the country, the project has drawn interest and support from international organisations such as The Global Fund, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and UNAIDS.

This is a very good initiative and some of the NGO’s in our area have accepted harm reduction programmes. It is going to help us, especially in our public spaces and in parks where children run around. There will be safety, as previously there were complaints about needles on the ground.”  said Tinashe Mhangara, Social worker – Voortrekker Road CID.

NACOSA looks forward to engaging the community and partners further on the pilot of this innovation, expected pilot date I April 2024.