Vending machine joins fight against HIV

Vending machine joins fight against HIV

HIV patients in South Africa will soon be able to access the pills they need to fight the disease from a dispensing machine.

A number of ATM-like vending machines are being set up to make it quicker and easier for patients to get their medicine while keeping their privacy.

Access to a regular supply of antiretroviral drugs is vital for HIV patients, but the stigma of having the disease means many are afraid to seek medical help

It is estimated more than six million people are infected with HIV in South Africa, but poverty and distance are a real barrier to receiving care.

Managing Director of the initiative, Fanie Hendriksz, trumpeted the system's ease of use saying: "the pharmacy dispensing unit dispenses chronic medicine directly to patients in a ATM format. It is made up of robotics and an automated system at the back, which allows easy access for medicine at convenient places for patients."

Patients can use the screen to speak to a pharmacist in real time and the anonymity it provides is essential.

Medical practitioner Dr Thapelo Maotoe also championed the ATM: "What comes right at the top is the issue of stigma. We have been addressing stigma for some time, we are addressing, but we are still having challenges in South Africa. So the PDU (the Pharmacy Dispensing Unit) by virtue of it being outside the practice, outside the clinic setting , allows patients to go there in their own time, any time, any day, without really thinking about who is seeing them."

Most Hospitals and clinics struggle to keep up with the demand for care, meaning long queues and hours to wait for medication, but thanks to the trial of the dispensers, doctors are being freed up to treat other patients quicker.

"Patients were used to waking up early to travel long distances to get here only to wait four to six hours for the medication. Now it is down to under 25 minutes and on a low volume day you could be out of here in five minutes" claimed Mr Hendriksz.

Pharmacist Raj Gudala says the automated in-pharmacy dispensing system could be life changing: "In my perspective I'm just thinking maybe the quality of life, health related quality of live in patients might increase a lot."

Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV in the world, as well as the highest infection rate, so if the machines prove successful it could mean a huge global step to fighting the deadly disease.