South Africa on Thursday launched an ATM-like vending machine to dispense medicines to patients with chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS.
Officials say ,the move is aimed at reducing waiting times and congestion in public healthcare facilities.
The health department and charity Right to Care said the Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU) designed as an Automated Teller Machine was the first of its kind in Africa, and allows patients with chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS to receive repeat medication in a few minutes.
The unit, dubbed “ATM pharmacy”, was launched in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township.
It works like a cash-vending machine but produces medicines.
Patients can speak to pharmacists located at a call centre by using a telephone receiver on the PDU and receive advise on their medicines.
Primrose Good, 60, was among the first to try out the PDU on Thursday when she collected her diabetes medication.
“This machine is helping me when it comes to time and helps me when it comes to standing because we are sick, we get dizzy at times because it gets very full. With this machine you just get here and punch in your numbers and take your medication and go home,” said Good.
“I spoke to at least three patients, one patient was coming for the first time, she used to take… she’s on ART for a year, she used to queue in the clinic, she’s really fascinated that she can come here, get her medication and go home, but I was with her at the ATM, she was a little bit uneasy, but she say now second time, she will be able to use it,” said Dr Gwendoline Ramokgopa, a Municipal Health Official.
At the epicentre of the worldwide AIDS pandemic, South Africa now boasts the largest treatment program in the world, with million people receiving the antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that allow those living with HIV to lead normal lives.
Alexandra is highly populated and public health facilities are overly burdened medics say.
Twenty five-year-old Bathandwa Mbele, who is HIV positive welcomed the ATM pharmacy, saying she worried that as she searches for a job access to medication would interfere with her prospects.
“This has really changed my life because I’m no longer worried about collecting my pills late. I have to be sure that when I start working I have to be there by 8 in the morning and knowing that I have to fetch my tablets. I would worry that I have to skip work and at the same time, I’m thinking that I have to go to the clinic and they will swear at me,” she said.
Fear and stigma still surround the disease here and in many other parts of the world, meaning people are afraid of getting tested and from accessing life prolonging ARV medication.