JOHANNESBERG, SOUTH AFRICA - An innovative system to dispense medicine to patients with chronic illnesses is taking off in South Africa. The award-winning “Pelebox,” created by South African engineer Neo Hutiri, is a computer-controlled vending machine stocked with prescription drugs, which patients access using a personal code.
The Pelebox has been hailed as a life saver for many, who use often-crowded South African hospitals and clinics. The medicine dispenser resembles the common automated teller machine and functions in a similar way.
Hutiri explains why he created the Pelebox.
“If you have been to public clinics, one of the biggest challenges that you face is spending hours and hours to get access to your chronic medication. The idea was very simple: Can we create a technology, locally manufactured, locally born idea where we can get somebody to collect medication in a couple of seconds, instead of waiting for hours?” asked Hutiri.
Details of each patient are uploaded into a computer system connected to the machine. The patient must indicate the clinic or point where they want to get their medication. The machine consists of a simple wall of lockers controlled by a digital system. And Hutiri, who once had a chronic illness, explains the most exciting experience for patients.
“We take pre-packed medicine, we would scan the medicine, load it inside the unit. It then sends an SMS to a patient saying 'Neo your medication is ready for collection, here is a one-time pin, please come and collect your medication at Winnie Mandela clinic.' The patient simply walks to the unit. On that touch screen, enters their cell phone together with a pin. It pops open the door. They collect and they are on their way,” said Hutiri.
The technology, first introduced in 2016, has been a hit among patients. There are 11 Peleboxes already operational across the country.
For years, 45-year-old Jenifer Shingange, a beneficiary of the technology, had to line up at dawn to collect her medication every month. She says since she started getting her drugs from the Peleboxes, she chooses a time that suits her, including after work.
“I would like to say very thank you. Thank you so much. What is making me excited is that when I come here I don’t stand in a long queue. I just put my cellphone and pin and press and get my treatment,” said Shingange.
The Aurum Institute, a leading health care organization that has partnered with Hutiri, expects to introduce 10 more machines in the city of Ekurhuleni. Up to 26 machines will be functioning across the country by September.
With each of the Peleboxes serving over 1,200 patients a month, authorities say they will go a long way toward shortening lines in hospitals and clinics.