Neo Hutiri is the winner of the 2019 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. The South African engineer has designed a collection of ‘smart lockers’, managed by his company Pelebox. These aim to help combat the current strain on the public healthcare system, caused by a high number of patients and insufficient funding.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
Hutiri was inspired to design his smart lockers when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2014. He required a repeat prescription of medication. He found that when collecting these pills, he would often have to wait for up to three hours. This was partly because of staff shortages and large numbers of patients with chronic illnesses, such as HIV and AIDS, needing repeat prescriptions. About 70% of the prescriptions public health facilities deal with are repeat prescriptions.
WHAT ARE SMART LOCKERS?
Smart lockers are secure, electronic lockers that are connected to the internet. The idea is that patients can come to collect their prescriptions from the lockers when they become available. This means that healthcare resources can be focused elsewhere, and less time is wasted dispensing medication.
HOW DO THEY WORK?
The patient will enrol in the collection program at their local healthcare centre. When the time comes for the medication to be collected, it is loaded into the smart locker. The system will send a text message to the patient, notifying them that their prescription is available. This text will also provide a one-use pin number. When the patient arrives at the smart lockers, they enter their phone number and pin number on the screen. The locker containing their prescription will open, and the patient can collect their medication.
HOW CAN THEY HELP?
Smart lockers could significantly reduce wait times at clinics. The Pelebox website claims the collection time could drop to as little as two minutes. Patients will have increased privacy, which for some people is important. These lockers could also ease the strain on healthcare system resources, as staff are no longer needed to hand out repeat prescriptions. This means they can focus their time on other important areas.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
There are currently six smart locker units in operation in South Africa, and the company are building eight more. Hutiri aims to use the prize money to help improve the technology and expand his business. This way they can manufacture more smart lockers and provide more units to healthcare centres. He hopes his invention can help cut the amount of time patients spend managing chronic illnesses.