• Back in 2000, many South African’s including the government were ignorant of AIDS and their attitude towards the disease was so negative that many people succumbed to the disease, and the cycle of infection spread far and wide.

    Some sixteen years later, the country has had a radical change, that has consequently resulted in better screening, and treatment of the disease among South Africans.

    On Monday, the seaside city of Durban received hundreds of AIDS researchers and activists to demonstrate that the fight against AIDS can be won if resources and education are put to work.

    South Africa hosts the 2016 International AIDS Conference at a time when it is employing new strategies to fight the pandemic that killed more than 330,000 people in the early 2000s.

    Today, the country boasts the largest HIV drug treatment program in the world. Life expectancy which was at a low of 57.1 years in 2009 has bounced back to 62.9 years in 2014. South Africa now is a global proving ground for treatment and prevention. The country is set to launch an experimental HIV vaccine later this year.

    Automated Antiretroviral Drug Machine- ADM

    What’s more, the country is introducing what looks like an ATM, which will be a game changer in the fight against HIV within and outside South Africa. The Automated Antiretroviral Drug Machine (ADM) was developed at the Helen Joseph hospital, Johannesburg by a non-profit organization, Right To Care. At least four machines will be strategically placed in Alexandra, whose dense population lives in extreme poverty, and lack education, keeping infection rates and ignorance about HIV high.

    Immediately after the launch at the Durban Conference, managing director of Right To Care’s ePharmacy project, Fanie Hendriksz, said the pilot would begin in the identified suburb.

    The £63,000 machine which was developed with robotics from Germany teamed with local expertise on software, will dispense drugs to patients in the localities, saving them a good amount of time, energy, and money that they would have previously used to go and collect them at hospitals.

    Using their smartcard IDs and a power source, patients will be able to withdraw their three-month medication, and if need be, they will be connected to a health center, via a webcam with a pharmacist on call.

    “We hope to have reached six sites this year,” said Hendriksz. “They will come with their own power source and have a link via a webcam to a center where there will be a pharmacist on call if needed – but generally it will be patients scanning in smartcard IDs and accessing their three months’ prescription, forgoing the need to come all the way into a hospital or a clinic and wait for hours to access their medication,” the Guardian reported.

    The first in Africa, the Right ePharmacy project, will contribute to South Africa’s goal, to double the number of people getting treatment, backing the global goal to have 90 percent of infected people on treatment by 2020.

    To stem stigmatization, the ADMs will dispense antiretroviral drugs, and also medication for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and Tuberculosis.

    Even as South Africa is making efforts to close the gaps, the country still has the highest number of people in the world living with HIV. Out of the 7 million infected people in the country, only half access treatment. Treatment innovations such as the newly launched HIV/AIDS drug dispenser will play a critical role in availing drugs to people on time to keep them healthy and alive.

    Image credit: AFP