Pelebox system in clinic

Smart medicine dispenser cuts waiting times from hours to seconds

Image credit: Royal Academy of Engineering

A dispensing system which could improve access to medical treatment has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2019 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.

The ‘Pelebox’ system was developed by a 31-year old South African electrical engineer, Neo Hutiri.

“In 2014, I was diagnosed with TB, so my journey started as a patient. I have a parent on chronic medication as well,” Hutiri told E&T. “Standing in another 3.5-hour long queue, I thought about how I could use my engineering and manufacturing background to solve the problem. I wanted to create technology that served people.”

Neo Hutiri with Pelebox

Royal Academy of Engineering

Image credit: Royal Academy of Engineering

Hutiri and his team developed a smart locker system to take over the job of dispensing medication for patients with chronic conditions. It looks like a wall of small lockers (“a bit like an old postbox wall”) which healthcare workers stock with prescription refills. The medicines are logged and the lockers secured. Patients are then sent a message informing them that their medicine is ready and given a one-time PIN, which they can use to open their locker and access the medicine at their convenience.

The engineers began a pilot programme in 2017 and have since installed five more systems in public clinics. Pelebox has been used for over 10,000 patient collections so far, with 100 per cent accuracy. The system allows patient to access their medicine within 36 seconds, in contrast to the 3.5-hour wait typical for other facilities.

Hutiri and his team have a contract with the South African government, which should see 14 more systems installed by mid-July, with many more planned in the future.

According to Hutiri, this will not only give back a significant amount of time to patients, but will also ease pressure on the healthcare system more generally, allowing patients to see doctors and nurses faster. This could prove particularly significant in South Africa, which has the world’s largest anti-retroviral therapy programme, involving 4.7 million patients having to collect their medicine from public clinics every month.

The project has won Hutiri a cash prize of £25,000 from the Royal Academy of Engineering, which was presented at an awards ceremony in Kampala, Uganda. The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize, which is now in its fifth year, rewards engineers in Sub-Saharan Africa for inventions designed to address problems in their communities. Last year, the prize was awarded to Brian Gitta for the development of a non-invasive malaria testing kit.

Hutiri and his team have obtained a trade mark for Pelebox and are now working on building more features into the system. They hope to be able to provide medicine tracking and data in order to improve public healthcare.

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