When I was a child and went to see the doctor, I remember sometimes getting shots if I was sick. It seemed stronger than getting medicine by mouth. Today, parents sometimes ask me to give shots of medicine to their sick children, either because the shots seem more powerful, or because they are more convenient (to the parents) than battles over pills or liquids.

Shots are especially common in developing and transitional countries – 16 billion shots there a year – according to a disturbing study from the World Health Organization (WHO) published in the November 8, 2003 British Medical Journal.

The WHO estimates that 70 percent of these injections are unnecessary, given for illnesses that could be treated with oral medicines or no medicine at all. Often these are given to meet what healthcare providers think is the demand of the patient. About 1 in 3 of these injections are given dangerously, as with needles that are re-used and not sterilized properly. Sadly, this results in about 96,000 unnecessary cases of HIV – and far more cases of serious hepatitis. About 1/3 of new cases of hepatitis B come from dirty needles, and most hepatitis C comes from unsafe injections.

Be sure your healthcare provider knows that you prefer treating your child without an injection, if that is wise. And if an injection is needed, don’t accept a dirty needle.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.

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