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Mark Koska Wins Social & Economic Innovation Award

5th October 2011

Marc Koska OBE has been named by The Economist as the 2011 winner of its award for social & economic innovation – marking his extraordinary contributions to global health care, alongside Devi Shetty – winner of this year’s award for business-process innovation.

In 1984, at the age of 23, Marc Koska read a newspaper article that said reused syringes would be a major transmission route for HIV and AIDS. For two years he researched the problem and studied syringe design. This led him to devise the K1 auto-disposable syringe that cannot be reused. Attempting to pull the plunger back up to reload the syringe causes it to break, rendering the syringe useless.

In 1996 he co-founded Star Syringe to license the technology to manufacturers around the world. Since 2001 more than 2.5 billion K1 syringes have been sold around the world, resulting in the prevention of an estimated10m infections, and more than 5m lives have been saved.

Devi Shetty, India’s leading heart surgeon and the director of a heart hospital in Calcutta, set out to use mass-production techniques to cut costs through specialisation and economies of scale in the Indian health-care system. In 2001 he founded Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital in Bangalore with 1,000 beds, compared to an average of 160 in American heart hospitals. Dr Shetty and his staff of cardiologists performed 6,272 heart operations in 2010, compared with 4,128 at the Cleveland clinic, a leading American hospital. Each operation costs around $2,000-$5,000, compared with $20,000-$100,000 in America.

In 2008 the Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital reported a 1.4% mortality rate within 30 days of coronary-artery bypass-graft surgery, one of the most common procedures, compared with an average 1.9% mortality rate in America. Over the next five years, Dr Shetty plans to increase the number of hospital beds to from 30,000, from 5,000 today. Despite serving a much poorer population, Dr Shetty’s privately owned hospital group earns an after-tax profit of 8%, slightly above the 6.9% average of an American hospital.

Tom Standage, Digital Editor at The Economist and chairman of the panel of 29 judges, said: “Marc Koska’s determination to prevent the deadly reuse of syringes has saved millions of lives. His invention shows that effective innovations need not be complex or expensive to achieve dramatic results, making him a worthy winner of our social & economic innovation award. Dr Shetty has shown that better health care need not cost more. Better processes can make a huge difference. He is renowned for his skill as a surgeon, but we are recognising his additional talent as an innovator, by naming him the winner of our business-process innovation award.”

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