SPEAKER PROFILE – MARK 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 tooling and 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. The K1 and Star Syringe was the result. And today, 27 years later, literally 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 precisely why I formed the SafePoint charity in 2006. Its purpose is to tell a whole generation of people about these dangers, especially in the developing world where the problem is most acute. Informing them through co-operation with the mass media, NGOs, professional bodies, national, local and educational authorities, using films, lectures, leaflets, posters, TV and radio shows – anything, in fact, that gets the message across.
In the process, I’ve come to personify my own quest. I’ve been showered with awards and honorary doctorates – even an OBE from Her Majesty. I’m invited places – you wouldn’t believe how many influential people I get to hang out with these days. You can’t have a conversation with an idea, but at least people can talk to me.
I couldn’t have done any of it without the support of my family, of course. But parenthood only reinforces your determination to protect other families from what is after all an entirely preventable human tragedy. Preventable tragedy makes me angry, to be honest – as I’m sure it does you. It’s a terrible waste. And there’s still so much more to be done…