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Updated 13 February 2017

'PillDrop' to revolutionise rural access to meds

A South African pharmacist’s idea of improving access to chronic medicines in rural areas has been recognised by the global Sandoz Hack competition.

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The PillDrop initiative, currently in the conception stage, was selected as one of 6 finalists from 150 entries worldwide. The competition by Sandoz, a generic drug company, aims to drive access to medicines, medical information and healthcare capacity.

A sizeable distance

Johannes Mangane from Mpumalanga says he was inspired to come up with the idea after seeing how people from rural areas struggle to access chronic medication.

“South Africa has a lot of rural provinces that are widely stretched with limited healthcare facilities. This means people have to travel a sizeable distance to access healthcare or fetch their chronic medicines.”

According to the 28-year-old, this entails expensive trips to distant medical centres and clinics, and sometimes the prescriptions go unfilled due to medicine shortages.

Mangane says PillDrop could provide relief for patients that are virtually denied access to timely healthcare services, including pharmaceutical services. Mangane, who works in a rural community, says about 40% of communities have to travel an average of 25km to access healthcare.

 “The cost to patients is high. It can mean a day or more of lost work time, high travel costs, and exposure to secondary infections. The solution I submitted is a response to this challenge that I see daily.”

Barcode scanning

The PillDrop is a mobile application that will enable patients to register as users and motorists to register as providers. Similar to the international transport service Uber, Mangane’s innovative design will locate a provider from the patients' area who is near the healthcare facility at the time of initiating the collection of the medicine. The model’s pricing will be far cheaper than the travel costs patients incur making the trip to collect their medication.   

 If all goes well, Mangane says patients will also be saved from making unnecessary trips to clinics, as the app will also enable them to see if their specific medication is in stock.

“The main function for the app is to link the patient PillDrop profile with the patient therapeutic treatment. The dispensary in the different healthcare facilities will use barcode scanning to link the patient treatment,” says Mangane.

Carel Meintjes, Commercial Excellence Head at Sandoz in South Africa, said PillDrop is a response to Mangane’s experiences of serving one of the most vulnerable communities in our country.

“It uses mobile technology, a strong theme of the 2016/17 Sandoz HACk challenge, to address key weaknesses in local healthcare access. If he wins this challenge, his proposed solution can, without doubt, be applied locally and eventually globally to immense benefit.”

Piloting project

Meintjes says currently two billion people across the globe cannot access the medicines they need.

“In South Africa, a lack of infrastructure, especially in remote rural areas, is a huge challenge we are well aware of,” Meintjes added.

Mangane’s idea will be designed to work around rural areas and widely stretched demographical locations by using smart phones technology and network coverage. If he wins the €20,000 (R285 000) prize, the pharmacist says he hopes to develop the concept into a prototype and initiate a piloting project as soon as possible.

Members of the public have until mid-February to give feedback on the shortlisted ideas before winners are announced in March.

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