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Drug ATMs launching in South Africa

By Alina Hardcastle

Just like withdrawing money from an ATM, South Africans will soon able to obtain their medication from a self-service ATM-like machine.

The Department of Health made this announcement, along with others, at the International Aids Conference, which took place in Durban last week.

The first pharmacy dispensing unit (PDU) will be piloted at Thembalethu clinic in Johannesburg. This will be put in place to eliminate the need for patients to wait in long queues. Pharmacists are not to worry as their services will not be eliminated completely. The PDU allows patients to communicate directly with a trained pharmacist directly from the machine using a built-in video conferencing function.

The purpose

Addressing the delegates at the conference, Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said South Africa is running the biggest HIV treatment programme in the world. In three decades the number of patients on treatment has increased from 400 000 to over 3.4 million. “However, the number of healthcare workers has not kept up with this increase, often leading to frustrated patients and lack of treatment adherence.”

How it works

So, how will this work? Like an ATM, you will need to register for the service and once you’ve done this, you will receive a card that’s similar to a bank card. When “withdrawing” medication, you will simply insert your card into the PDU machine, enter your pin and select the medication that is required on your prescription list. The machine will immediately dispense the selected medication.

In conclusion

“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,” Motsoaledi explained. “It is thus imperative that we embrace all available measures to make it easy for people to continue with their treatment.”

Sources: Department of Health

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