But it doesn't have to be that way, as winners of the recent Index design awards make clear.
One of the favorite winners is called the AntiVirus. It's simply a plastic top for a soft drink can with a one-way nozzle in it.
You drop used needles through the nozzle and they stay in the can. Once the can is filled you dispose the whole unit as a biohazard, but you've kept everything together and the parts are dirt cheap.
Or take the TongueSucker (above), a British innovation that can be used by anyone, without training, to hold open the airways of someone who is unconscious and in danger of swallowing their tongue. Squeeze the bulb, place the funnel in the mouth, release, and the tongue flows into the funnel, leaving the airway clear.
Finally consider the Solar Bottle, a sort of supercharged sun tea device for making dirty water potable. Put the water in, leave in the sunlight, and six hours later it's safe to drink. Or you can make tea with it.
Breakthroughs for the masses, as opposed to the classes, don't have to be expensive to be worthwhile. In fact it's better that they are cheap, because they'll be widely adopted. And the enormous production volumes you can get may make them more profitable, in the long run, than that expensive stuff.
Something worth thinking about.