No more long queues at clinics - first medication ATM launched

Nontsikelelo Mbambo collecting her medication from a dispensary unit in Alexandra township.
Nontsikelelo Mbambo collecting her medication from a dispensary unit in Alexandra township.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali

The life of a woman who has been taking antiretroviral drugs since 1989 has dramatically changed as she no longer has to queue at her local congested clinic once a month from 5am.

Philda Dladla‚ who lives only 10 streets away from the newly established ePharmacy facility at the Alexandra Plaza Shopping Centre‚ Johannesburg – which has been described as an ATM dispensary -said she was satisfied with the system.

The cheerful mother of two relayed how her HIV/AIDS status has been nothing but a force of good influence in her life.

“My life was miserable when I found out about my status. Mind you‚ this was the time when people were dying left right and centre because of the disease. It was tough. But I told myself that I will not let it get to me. I then started taking my medication. I did not care if I would be judged‚ I don’t have a stigma‚” Dladla said.

She said she was a member of a support group consisting of 40 women who empower each other and encourage others to take their medication.

“In some incidences I am forced to take people to the clinic for medication. People don’t like taking their medication.

It’s like I am a caretaker and it’s not something I planned‚” said Dladla.

Dladla said although Alexandra township was riddled with crime‚ she was confident the community would respect and preserve the facility.

Showing us her pharmacy smartcard Dladla said receiving her medication was a few buttons away‚ something she could do during her shopping. “It’s better here‚ it’s way better than being in a queue after waiting from 5am.”

Dladla was speaking at the launch of the ATM-like pharmaceutical dispensary unit by the Gauteng department of health in partnership with international organisations.

MEC for health Gwen Ramakgopa said this was a great step forward for patients as it would reduce waiting times and congestion in public healthcare facilities.

“The patient comes with a script from the hospital from the clinic or hospital and they are loaded into an electronic patient system. They are [then] given a pin code and with that pin code and barcoded ID [identity document] they go to the ATM and enter their ID. You can communicate with the screen. The experience encourages adherence‚” said Ramokgopa.

She said there were eight primary healthcare clinics in the vicinity which refer patients.

Patients who will be using the ATM’s are those who have managed to stabilise their conditions and do not need monitoring. They will however need a referral from their local clinic or hospital.

The system is aimed at improving access‚ reducing medicine collection time‚ providing medication at convenient locations and offering counselling.

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