A new color-changing syringe could save millions of lives worldwide by providing a visual indication to warn patients of prior use. The aptly labeled “LIFESAVER” syringe uses “smart ink” to turn an irreversible bright red after being exposed to the air. Invented by Dr. David Swann of Huddersfield University, the ABCs–A Behavior Changing Syringe–not only warns patients of contaminated needles, but also aims to teach people that the reuse of dirty syringes is a risky and often lethal practice. The project was recently honored as a finalist for the INDEX:Award 2013.

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Injections are one of the most common health care procedures worldwide, with at least 16 billion shots administered in developing and transitional countries every year. According to the WHO, 40% of those injections are given with unsterilized needles and cause an estimated 1.3 million early deaths annually and add a burden of $535 million in direct medical costs.

These life-saving syringes hope to prevent those unnecessary deaths. Here’s how it works: the transformative syringe contains a nitrogen-filled pack, which ensures that the syringe remain colorless until the seal is broken. Once exposed to the air, carbon dioxide activates chemical reactions in the o-crestolphthalein ink that turn the syringe’s barrel a permanent red color. The design of the syringe also prevents tampering and installation of normal pistons, thus avoiding unsafe reuse.

When the ABCs were tested in India, 100% of the literate and illiterate men, women, and children correctly identified the red syringe as dangerous. Created with the belief that good design should be affordable, the cost-effective technology in these life-saving syringes only adds 1% to the retail price. Other auto disposable syringes can cost 200% more than ordinary syringes.

+ INDEX: Award 2013