Today, a new weapon in the fight against AIDS was unveiled in South Africa.
Over seven million South Africans are living with AIDS – the largest number anywhere in the world. Poor adherence to medication is a real challenge, not only posing a threat to those with the illness, but in massively increasing their risk of spreading it further.
Part of the problem is the stigma associated with the condition, and part is due to the pure logistics of treating so many people. Five hour queues for medication are relatively common – and that is once the patients actually get to the clinic.
A new machine has been designed to resolve both issues. The £63,000 “hole-in-the-wall” machine uses German robotics to dispense antiretroviral drugs, with smart card readers and webcams to identify patients. There will also be a live link to a call centre with a pharmacist who can help patients with advice if needed.
The machines will hold other medication for patients with conditions like TB or diabetes and so hopefully there will be no stigma preventing AIDS sufferers from using them.
The machine will be piloted in one of the most densely-populated and poor areas of Johannesburg, as well as in some rural areas that are miles from the nearest clinic.
A 2011 study showed giving HIV treatment to patients who are positive but still healthy can reduce transmission to HIV-negative partners by 96% - but only if the patients adhere to the medicine regime.
By making drugs so much more accessible, the new machine could transform the AIDS landscape in South Africa.