No. 001 PELEBOX
Theme: Designing with Compassion
Being ill is a bad experience for anyone, especially with something as serious as tuberculosis. Add to this the frustration of having to wait in a clinic queue for half a day to collect your medication and you have a double dose of bad. It’s something Neo Hutiri got to know very well in 2014 when collecting his monthly TB medication. Queues meant he and many others were missing out on work.
But this sparked an idea. What if he could create a digitally enabled system that eradicated the long wait and made the medication-collection process easier? The result is Pelebox, a dispensing system for chronic medication that allows patients to access their meds in less than a minute, using simple technology.
“You can complain, or you can contribute,” says Hutiri, who has an undergraduate degree in computer science and a Master’s in industrial engineering. He was working at ArcelorMittal at the time, but left to pursue Pelebox through his own start-up company Technovera. “I thought, I’ve got hands, a mind and skills, so how can I leverage my gifts to create something with value?”
What he devised was a unit with a digital keypad and 72 small temperature-controlled lockers. When a patient’s chronic medication is ready – be it for TB, hypertension, diabetes or HIV – it is placed in one of the lockers by the clinic staff, and gets logged onto a system. This sends the patient an SMS notification with a one-time pin, which they enter in the Pelebox keypad, together with their cell-phone number, to unlock their locker and receive their medication. “It’s a way to digitally move patients to the front of the queue,” says Hutiri of Pelebox, explaining how the name derives from the Setswana word pele, meaning “in front, fast and quick”. On average, collection takes 22 seconds.
It wasn’t easy in the beginning. Hutiri struggled to find anyone who believed it was possible to change the system so radically. However, during 18 months of perseverance, and with support from The Aurum Institute, he developed a prototype and got the National Department of Health on board. This allowed him to test a unit at a clinic in Mamelodi in 2017. The results were ground-breaking, and led to 14 more being installed in Gauteng, KZN and the North-West Province, with each one aimed at serving 1,112 patients per month. The target is to have another 15 Peleboxes installed in clinics by June 2020.
Considering around 82% of South Africa’s population depends on public-sector health services, about 70% of the daily prescription load is dedicated to dispensing repeat prescriptions, and 4.8-million South Africans were on anti-retrovirals in 2018, Pelebox’s solution to alleviate the burden on the healthcare system is being lauded by many. Last year the company won the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation from Britain’s Royal Academy of Engineering, and Pelebox was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Inventions.
The ultimate reward for Hutiri, however, is to watch his patient-centric system in action, knowing that less patients are forfeiting hourly wages because of time spent in queues, and that TB patients previously dissuaded from collecting their meds when they started feeling better are more inclined to use the quick Pelebox system to complete the mandatory six-month course of treatment. “It gives me such a high degree of pleasure,” he says.
100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.