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Bid to end long clinic queues

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As many as 7.1 million people in the country are living with HIV resulting in massive pressure on health facilities that distribute life-saving medication

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PATIENTS in the Northern Cape living with HIV and other chronic health conditions could soon collect their medication “in as little as 36 seconds” after the Embassy of the United States in South Africa announced plans to assist the country end long queues at clinics by introducing new technologies that focus on patient-centred care to public health facilities.

South Africa, with a population of more than 50 million people, has the biggest HIV epidemic in the world. As many as 7.1 million people in the country are living with HIV resulting in massive pressure on health facilities that distribute life-saving medication.

State clinics, which provide free HIV treatment, are generally characterised by long queues that form at dawn. Patients wait for hours to be served.

However, the US Embassy in Pretoria said on Friday that it had a solution – one that could not only end the queues at state clinics but also enable patients to collect their prescriptions in about half a minute.

“Let’s make long queues at public health clinics history. The American people, through the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), are working hand-in-hand with the South African National Department of Health and our local implementing partner organisations to bring new technologies that focus on patient-centred care to public health facilities in South Africa.”

A day before, on Thursday, the Aurum Institute, a local partner supported by PEPFAR through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), officially launched a Pelebox smart locker at the Winnie Mandela Clinic in Tembisa, Gauteng.

“Using the Pelebox, people living with HIV and other chronic health conditions can collect their life-saving medication in as little as 36 seconds, without entering the clinic or receiving assistance from a health care worker,” said the US embassy in a statement.

“You simply enter your phone number and a pin code, and a locker pops open with your medication parcel inside.

“PEPFAR’s support of new technologies like the Pelebox “helps address the biggest challenge in South Africa’s HIV response today – ensuring that people living with HIV who start life-saving antiretroviral treatment (ART) remain on treatment, so they can live longer and healthier lives.”

The US Embassy said Pelebox will drastically reduce waiting times to collect life-saving medication, diminish foot traffic in overcrowded clinics, and make ART more accessible to the millions who need it.

This project is part of PEPFAR’s broader support for the Central Chronic Medicine Dispensing and Distribution (CCMDD) initiative, which creates convenient medication pick-up points in communities across the country.

“The Pelebox is a home-grown innovation created by Neo Hutiri, a South African engineer who was determined to end long queues for medication collection after being diagnosed with TB. He named the smart locker after the Tswana word ‘pele’, meaning quickly, in front, and first,” said the statement.

Through PEPFAR, the US has partnered with South Africans since 2004 to support HIV prevention and treatment, investing more than $6 billion (over R80 billion) in HIV programmes in South Africa.