Alexandra’s ‘ATM pharmacy’ a first in Africa


The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit provides repeat medication for township patients with chronic illnesses like HIV and TB in less than three minutes.

The Gauteng Department of Health (DoH) in partnership with Right to Care and Right ePharmacy launched a groundbreaking “ATM pharmacy” today that provides patients with chronic illnesses such as HIV, diabetes and TB their repeat medication in just under three minutes.

The Pharmacy Dispensing Unit (PDU) means patients with chronic illnesses will no longer wait for hours in public health facilities when they can receive their medication within minutes.

The PDU which was launched in Alexandra, Johannesburg this morning is the first of its kind in Africa and was developed by a team of experts from the provincial DoH.

The PDU will reduce congestion in public healthcare facilities. It works like an ATM for medication, with Skype-like audio-visual interaction between patient and pharmacists and robotic technology to dispense medication.

Here are some of the technological features of the PDU:

  • An interactive, information touchscreen and a user-friendly interface which allows for two-way Skype-like audiovisual interaction;
  • Barcode ID scanning to initiate dispensing;
  • Patient PIN code authentication and activation;
  • Cloud-based dispensing software and electronic dispensing record;
  • Barcode linked product database and product identification capability;
  • Versatile product printer  labeller;
  • Customised, temperature controlled compact medicine unit and
  • A robotic arm for accurate and swift picking of medicines.

Gauteng MEC for health Gwen Ramokgopa said the project is an example of what the future holds for the health sector.

She said the PDU will assist with reaching over 400 000 patients who receive their medications from stand-alone and retail pharmacies – which was initiated as a way of decongesting public health facilities.

Ramokgopa said the unit will help reach more patients without compromising safety, and that pharmacists and their assistants will be on site.

She said through the Skype-like audiovisual interaction patients can be counselled on how to take their medication and it can be determined whether they have any side effects before the medication is dispensed.

The MEC added that the PDU will help the department reach the missing 2 million patients that should be on ART medication in the country and it will assist with ensuring that patients adhere to their ART regimens and other chronic medication.

Four thousand patients have successfully made use of the unit, with 8 000 PDU already complete and 18 000 parcels of medication dispensed so far.


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