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South Africa unveils pharmacy vending machine

For residents of Alexandra township in Johannesburg, the days of waiting for hours to obtain medication at local clinics are over.

A new ATM pharmacy machine was unveiled today, 15 March 2018 at the Alexandra Plaza, to assist residents to pick up their government-supplied chronic medication at a fully automated dispensary or Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU).

Registered patients simply scan their ID book, ID card, or pharmacy card at the machine, which looks a bit like an ATM, and enter a pin code to receive their medication there and then.

A robotic arm locates and dispenses the medication in what could be imagined as a highly sophisticated vending machine.

Alexandra Plaza was chosen as the first pilot site for the PDU™. It is one of the poorest areas in Johannesburg, with over 30 000 patients reliant on chronic medication. There are eight primary healthcare clinics in the vicinity which can all refer patients to collect their medicine from the PDU™, which stays open for extended hours, including weekends and public holidays.

“Where people from Alexandra would previously have to spend hours waiting for medication at a clinic, and often miss a day’s work and wages, they can now get it within minutes at their local shopping centre,” says Smital Rambhai, portfolio manager for Futuregrowth’s Community Property Fund.

The PDU™ was developed by a team comprising experts from Right to Care and Right ePharmacy in collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Health.

Right to Care approached Futuregrowth knowing the PDU™ would be well aligned with the asset manager’s commitment to servicing the communities around their shopping centres.

“This is a winning solution for everyone,” says Rambhai. “It assists the Department of Health in efficient distribution of medicine. It is a massively time-saving option for the patients who need medicine. It also drives foot traffic to our shopping centre, which is good for the retailers, and ultimately good for investors in our fund, who are predominately pension and provident funds.”

“At Futuregrowth, we have always believed that the private sector should be assisting government in achieving its goals, and this is a great example of how public-private partnerships can work to benefit everyone,” said Rambhai.

“This innovation dramatically reduces waiting times and congestion in public healthcare facilities. The system is run by qualified pharmacists and pharmacy assistants and integrates with the clinical management of patients with chronic conditions at public facilities. It also supports adherence. The date for the next collection is shown on the receipt the patient receives when collecting medication and prescription collection reminders are sent by SMS. Late collections are immediately flagged for follow up. It also offers patients service in all official languages and there is support at the site to help patients deal with the technology,” said Gwen Ramokgopa, Gauteng Province Health MEC.

Right to Care CEO, Professor Ian Sanne, says Alexandra Plaza was selected as the pilot site because it is an easily accessible community shopping centre in an area where there is a big strain on public health facilities. Sites have also been selected in Diepsloot and Soweto.

Fanie Hendriksz, Right ePharmacy Managing Director says the company is spearheading disruptive health innovation and differentiated models of care that are much needed in Africa, and these new technologies will dramatically improve health outcomes across the continent in time.

The pilot implementation and operation of this breakthrough technology in Gauteng has been made possible through Right to Care and Right ePharmacy’s key collaborations and strategic partnerships with national and international stakeholders such as the Gauteng Provincial Health Department, USAID, GIZ who are implementing on behalf of the German Government and Mach4.

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