This morning the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) in partnership with Right to Care and Right ePharmacy officially launched their Pharmacy Dispensing Unit™ (PDU™) at the Alexandra Plaza Shopping Centre in Johannesburg.

The PDU is the first such ‘ATM for medication’ on the African continent and it will allow patients with chronic illnesses to receive repeat medication within three minutes directly from the machine. The PDU facilitates Skype-like audio-visual interaction between patient and tele-pharmacists, and has cloud based electronic software and robotic technology to dispense and label medication.

The PDU was developed locally in South Africa using German robotics manufacturer, MACH4’s machinery to dispense the medication, and its database and communications software platform is based on InterSystems Caché and Ensemble solutions.

“Our partnerships made this innovation possible and we are grateful to the GDoH and for the contributions of USAID and GIZ who are implementing on behalf of the German Government and MACH4. The PDU was developed to ensure accurate dispensing and quick collection. A clinically stable patient on chronic medication can be given the option to collect chronic prescriptions from the PDU pharmacy. While driven by sophisticated technology, patients’ concerns and information needs are still handled one-on-one by tele-pharmacists,” said Right to Care CEO, Professor Ian Sanne.

“Alexandra Plaza, where our first PDU is located, is a central community shopping centre which is on transport routes and it is open on weekends and public holidays. Sites in Diepsloot and two sites in Soweto have also been selected for the pilot of this public pharmacy programme,” continued Professor Sanne.

Gauteng Health MEC, Gwen Ramokgopa, who attended the launch said: “This is a great step forward for patients in our city as it dramatically reduces waiting times and congestion in public healthcare facilities. In Alex, there are eight primary healthcare clinics in the vicinity which refer patients.”

“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 11 languages and there is support at the site to help patients deal with the technology,” continued MEC Ramokgopa.

Medicine is dispensed via the PDU in a simple five-step process: the patient scans their barcode ID book, ID card or pharmacy card and enters a PIN. The patient then talks to a remote pharmacist and selects the prescription or other items. The medicine is then robotically dispensed,labelled and drops in the collection slot. Lastly, the patient takes a receipt which indicates the next collection date.

“This ATM-like approach to dispensing medication demonstrates innovative thinking to overcome challenges we encounter in ensuring people stay on HIV treatment or treatment for other chronic illnesses,” said US Charge d’Affaires, Jessica Lapenn.

“We are pleased to have partnered with Right to Care on this and other innovations for people living with HIV. The PDU is a unique solution that uses technology to move beyond traditional healthcare delivery. It is a wonderful example of commitment by the United States Government to the people of South Africa through PEPFAR to help create a safer, healthier, and brighter future for South Africans,” continued Lapenn.

“Improving access to medication is key. The PDU promises to significantly improve people’s ability to deal with their illnesses. The German government is pleased to be a part of this multi-stakeholder partnership which brings together government, international donors and the private sector,” said Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy in Pretoria, Klaus Streicher.

“This pharmacy enhances access to quality pharmaceutical services and improves patient convenience. The early benefits have shown valuable patient and community data trends that are needed to improve patient outcomes. The technology is making it easier for people with various illnesses to have access to medication, ultimately improving adherence,” concluded Managing Director of Right ePharmacy, Fanie Hendriksz.

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