TB HIV Care launches vending machines for easier access to sexual health products across provinces

SEXUAL health vending machine. | Supplied

SEXUAL health vending machine. | Supplied

Published Apr 12, 2024


According to UNAids, the world saw 39 million people living with HIV in 2022. During the same year, 1.3 million people were infected with HIV, and 630 000 individuals died from Aids-related illnesses.

In response to the ongoing battle against HIV and Aids, an innovative approach is being adopted in South Africa.

TB HIV Care, in collaboration with the Department of Health and several non-profit organisations, has launched a pilot project that aims to make sexual and reproductive health (SRH) products more accessible.

This initiative involves the installation of vending machines that dispense condoms, lubricants and contraception to help reduce teen pregnancy and the spread of HIV.

The first of these vending machines was set up at the Hub of Hope in Mthatha on Wednesday.

Jenny Mcloughlin, the programme director of TB HIV Care, announced that there are plans to introduce seven more machines across the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal in the coming months.

The project, supported by partner non-profit organisations, also seeks to expand these efforts to other districts and provinces throughout the country, significantly impacting public health.

“The project has taken into account the needs of adolescent girls and young women, and adolescent boys and young men. First and foremost, young women don’t want to fall pregnant.

“They don’t want to deal with an unintended pregnancy or be vulnerable to STIs and HIV. But they might be too embarrassed, or even too scared to visit a clinic or facility. Vending machines are a great option for young people who are looking for a quick, convenient and discreet alternative,” said Mcloughlin.

DEPUTY Minister of Health Sibongiseni Dhlomo with Eastern Cape Health MEC Ms Nomakhosazana Meth at the launch of the Self-Care Wellness Vending Machine. | Supplied

The introduction of health product vending machines is a major move to make staying healthy simpler for everyone.

This project isn't just about the machines; it's part of a bigger plan to make sure more people can easily get sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention services without facing any judgement.

Mcloughlin highlights that offering kind and welcoming services, especially for young people, is their top priority.

"Anyone who needs help or products like condoms, contraceptive pills, sanitary pads, pregnancy tests or HIV tests can just give a quick call to loveLife's call centre. They'll get a special code to use at these vending machines to pick up whatever they need, easily and discreetly," she says.

Luzuko Tosh, who leads HIV prevention efforts at TB HIV Care, stresses that making access to these services convenient is key.

This hands-on approach aims to encourage more individuals to proactively manage their sexual and reproductive health by providing them with the tools and support they need, right where they are.

In a recent push to modernise healthcare and make it more accessible, health experts are looking towards technology for answers.

"With the help of smartphones, apps, and now vending machines, we're making it easier for everyone to get the health and wellness products they need without having to go to a clinic," explained Tosh.

"Soon, we'll also start offering medications like PrEP and ARVs through these machines. This way, we hope to reduce the long lines at health centres and save people money on transport costs to these facilities."

The idea behind this tech-savvy approach is not just about convenience. It's also about empowering individuals, especially those from underserved communities such as the LGBTQI+ group and key populations, to take control of their health.

Tosh added: "This is all about giving people the means to manage their health, without the limitations of our current system."

Supporting this initiative, Mcloughlin highlighted the importance of self-care, especially among young people and marginalised groups, who often find it difficult to access traditional healthcare services.

"With our Hubs of Hope and the introduction of wellness vending machines, we're aiming to make healthcare products more reachable to the youth, encouraging them to prioritise their well-being."

The initiative is powered by a grant from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and managed through TB HIV Care.

The funding has enabled the installation of seven innovative vending machines that not only distribute wellness products, but will also soon make crucial medications available.

These machines are specifically designed to help break down the barriers young people face in accessing healthcare, particularly in the areas of menstrual and sexual health.