People living with HIV and other chronic illnesses are getting faster, simpler access to essential medicines thanks to new medicine dispensing machines being piloted in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The non-profit organization Right to Care is testing three pharmacy dispensing units at a shopping mall and two hospitals. Most of the people using the new machines are accessing repeat prescriptions for HIV medicines.
The machines connect users to pharmacy assistants by video for remote consultations in any of the 11 official languages of South Africa. The entire process, from consultation to the release of the medicines from the machine, takes only a few minutes.
The machines are integrated with public health facilities responsible for patients with chronic conditions, in order to ensure that patients receive and adhere to effective treatments. The users of the machines get a printed receipt with the date of their next visit and receive a reminder by SMS. The system alerts pharmacists if patients are late to collect their medicines.
The device could be a game-changer for expanding access to HIV treatment. The South Africa UNAIDS Country Director, Mbulawa Mugabe, said, “One of our biggest challenges today in most countries in Africa is that health facilities are packed. We need to find ways in which we can relieve the congestion in the interest of patients themselves and also for the health systems.”
People living with HIV can often wait several hours to have their prescription filled at a local clinic. The process also takes up valuable time for skilled pharmacists. Now those tasks are being handled by junior pharmacists, who work with a robotic system to dispense pills in a matter of minutes.
The pharmacy dispensing units were engineered by Right to Care’s subsidiary Right e-Pharmacy in collaboration with the German company Mach4 and supported by German and American development agencies GIZ and USAID. The current trials are being conducted in collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Health and Right to Care hopes to expand the trial to two other African countries in the near future.
South Africa has the highest rate of HIV prevalence in the world and provides free treatment to 4.2 million people. The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, recently set a target of expanding HIV treatment to an additional 2 million people by 2020. With millions of South Africans accessing medicines from clinics and hospitals, innovations such as these dispensing machines promise to help South Africa achieve its ambitious targets.
South Africa tests potential game-changer in HIV treatment
Zaheer Cassim reports for VOA from Alexandra township in Johannesburg.