In the same fashion people draw money from ATMs, South Africans will soon be able to get medicine from dispensing machines.
The Department of Health made the announcement at the 21st International Aids Conference, which took place in Durban from 18-22 July.
The pharmacy dispensing unit (PDU) is being piloted at Thembalethu Clinic in Johannesburg. It is a self-service machine where patients can obtain their medication.
Easy to use
Anyone interested in using the machine first needs to register. Just like a bank ATM, once registered, they receive a card. To get the medicine, they insert the card into the machine, enter a PIN and get what they need.
“The machine,” said the department, “immediately dispenses the selected medication, eliminating the need for the patient to wait in queues.”
However, the machine does not totally eliminate pharmacists. There is a trained pharmacist available on the PDU via a built-in video conference functionality.
Progress and challenges
Speaking at the conference, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi noted that South Africa was running the biggest HIV treatment programme in the world. In three decades, he said, the number of patients on treatment had increased from 400 000 to over 3.4 million.
“However, the number of health care workers has not kept up with this increase, often leading to frustrated patients and lack of treatment adherence.
“The biggest challenge with not adhering to treatment is that it poses a real risk of the emergence of drug-resistant HIV, in the same way drug-resistant TB came about,” he said. “It is thus imperative that we embrace all available measures to make it easy for people to continue with their treatment.”