An ATM pharmacy that gives patients with chronic illnesses their repeat medication has been launched in Alexandra, a township in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU) is the first of its kind in Africa and was developed by a team of experts from Right to Care and Right ePharmacy- in collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Health.

The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU) works like an ATM for medication, with the Skype-like audio-visual interaction between patient and tele-pharmacists, cloud-based electronic software and robotic technology to dispense and label medication.

Right to Care CEO, Professor Ian Sanne says, “Our partnerships made this innovation possible and we are grateful to the Gauteng Provincial Health Department and for the contributions of USAID, GIZ who are implementing on behalf of the German Government and Mach4.

The PDUTM 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 PDUTM pharmacy. While driven by sophisticated technology, patients’ concerns and information needs are still handled one-on-one by tele-pharmacists.

Sanne added, “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.”

Gauteng Health MEC, Gwen Ramokgopa, says, “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 eleven languages and there is support at the site to help patients deal with the technology.”