New Vending Machines Increase Distribution of Sexual and Menstrual Health Products

In a pilot project with the Department of Health and partner NPOs, TB HIV Care is rolling out vending machines as part of a new digital health initiative to expand access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) products – and increase uptake of condoms, lubricants and contraception to decrease teen pregnancy and HIV infection.

The first vending machine, launched on Wednesday, 10 April, is situated at the Hub of Hope in Mthatha, but as TB HIV Care’s Programme Director Jenny Mcloughlin explains, TB HIV Care will support the procurement and roll-out of another seven machines in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal over the next few months, with partner NPOs supporting the NDOH in other districts and provinces across the country.

“The project has taken into account the needs of adolescent girls and young women, and adolescent boys and young men,” says Mcloughlin. “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.”

Importantly, the vending machines are not a stand-alone initiative. They form part of an integrated approach to improve access to SRH and HIV prevention services.

“Non-judgemental, youth-friendly services are at the heart of everything we do,” says Mcloughlin. “Clients can call loveLife’s call centre – one of our partners – to access information, counselling and support. But they can also send a ‘please call me’ to the number if they’re looking for condoms, contraceptive pills, sanitary pads or even pregnancy tests or HIV tests,” explains Mcloughlin.  “They then receive a code which they can punch into the vending machine to select their items.”

For Luzuko Tosh, TB HIV Care’s HIV Prevention Regional Manager, ease and convenience is critically important when it comes to increasing access to SRH and HIV prevention services:

“Digital health technology is exciting. We can use phones, apps and vending machines to distribute non-pharmaceutical, personal wellness products and, a little further down the line, medication like PrEP and ARVs. This will reduce unnecessary clinic visits, queues, and the burden on primary health facilities. It also reduces out-of-pocket costs, like taxi fare, to get to clinics,” says Tosh. “Importantly, it allows people to take charge of their health and expands access to underserved and vulnerable groups, like key populations and the LGBTQI+ community.”

Mcloughlin agrees. “Self-care is so important. We know there are many reasons that people, including adolescent girls and young women, struggle to access healthcare facilities. Through Hubs of Hope, and now wellness vending machines, we’re hoping to encourage young people to look after their health and give them the products and services they really need.”

The seven vending machines are funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through TB HIV Care to address barriers to healthcare – and expand access to menstrual and sexual health products for young people.

New Community-Led TB Approach Set to Make a Significant Impact

World leaders have committed to end TB as a public health threat by 2030. It’s an ambitious goal that requires providing life-saving treatment for up to 45 million people by 2027; providing TB  preventive therapy for another 45 million people, including household contacts, children, and people living with HIV; and mobilising funding for the development of new diagnostics, treatment regimens and vaccines.

But for countries with a high TB incidence like South Africa, there is still a lot of work to be done around stigma, TB knowledge and identifying and addressing barriers that prevent people from accessing quality health services.

The United Nations-hosted Stop TB Partnership has supported the adaptation and scale-up of OneImpact TB Community-led monitoring (CLM) in 36 countries around the world, including a pilot project in South Africa.

OneImpact CLM is a solution and process through which people affected by TB, in particular key and vulnerable populations, are empowered to engage and be part of the TB response to ensure that quality TB care and support services are available, accessible, acceptable to all, and free from stigma and discrimination. Technology is one of its building blocks. It consists of an App and Dashboards for community engagement, action and enhanced accountability.

The App for people affected by TB allows people to:

  • get information on TB,
  • find TB services in their area via a map,
  • chat online with other TB patients and TB survivors to get support, and
  • report any challenges, barriers or best practices encountered while accessing TB services.

Significantly, this approach is not limited to TB. It can also integrate HIV, COVID-19, pandemic preparedness and other health responses.

As Harry Hausler, Chief Executive Officer at TB HIV Care explains, OneImpact technology is more than an App, it’s a community engagement tool that makes it easy for people to access the information, support and healthcare services they need, and a partnership-building tool which enables people affected by TB to report barriers to access in real-time for rapid action and which allows key decision makers to pinpoint system issues.

“Improving knowledge of TB among learners, educators, young people and communities in South Africa will help to improve TB outcomes,” says Hausler. “OneImpact can enhance information sharing and dissemination and debunk myths and misconceptions around TB – so we can increase the rate that care is sought for TB symptoms. And thereafter it can ensure retention within care by addressing the barriers that keep people from accessing care or receiving good quality care.”

Importantly, the OneImpact dashboard will enable partners and stakeholders (at national, provincial, district and facility level) to access information on the specific issues being reported in their areas over time (including drug stock-outs, lengthy queues and experiences of stigma or discrimination). With the information available at local level on gaps and barriers, local solutions can be developed collaboratively with affected communities, relevant local NGOs and government departments to meet the specific needs of different communities.

For Alison Best, Community Rights and Gender Specialist at TB HIV Care, one of the most important parts of the OneImpact initiative is the role played by TB Champions.

“Through OneImpact, we have trained 47 OneImpact Champions. These Champions disseminate information on OneImpact and thus TB, support people living with TB and advocate for the rights of people, families and communities affected by TB.”

David Macana, three-time TB survivor and OneImpact Champion, is excited about OneImpact’s potential:

“I worked in the mines for 12 years. The third time I had TB, I had TB meningitis for seven months before doctors diagnosed it. During that time, I would take about 24 pills every single morning – and my treatment lasted 18 months. The OneImpact initiative has allowed me to learn more about TB, coordinate TB ambassadors across the country, and attend a OneImpact workshop. Part of my work in the mines was to do awareness campaigns for chronic diseases like HIV and silicosis. I now have a new passion: educating people about TB. TB is curable and OneImpact assists TB patients, community health workers and others – enhancing their knowledge and answering any questions people might have about TB.”

Macana believes that the discussions that happen within the OneImpact platform can also empower patients, relieve stress and reduce stigma. Best agrees.

“Focus groups have shown that TB counselling often only happens at the beginning of treatment, or largely consists of being told to take one’s TB treatment as prescribed,” explains Best. “OneImpact is designed to support the Department of Health, support patients and provide a platform for ongoing engagement, which is so important as TB treatment can take anywhere between six and 18 months.”

For Macana, there is no option but to meet the UN’s goals to end TB. “The theme for World TB Day says Yes! You and I Can End TB. It’s a call to action for political leadership, and for the private and public sectors to work together to end TB. TB treatment and prevention is important to ensure that we curb the spread of TB amongst our people and communities. Taking your treatment every day reduces the chances of one spreading TB and infecting others. Hence, it is important to access and to adhere to treatment. And OneImpact can make a real difference.”

The difference can already be seen in the Free State, where OneImpact Champion, Nthateng Makeng (working with the Association of Women In Mining South Africa, AWIMSA) has documented 32 cases of ex-miners with silicosis (78% also have TB), being unable to access compensation. Ms Makeng is supporting their applications to the relevant mining companies, the Tshiamiso Trust and the Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases.

“There’s no doubt that OneImpact can reveal gaps, challenges and opportunities in the fight against TB,” says Best. “We’re still in the pilot phase, but with the support of the relevant government departments and community-based organisations, we’re hopeful we can scale up a sustainable model in the near future.”

Western Cape World TB Day Event in Paarl

On 20 March, the community of Paarl in the Western Cape convened to observe World TB Day. The heat soared to a sweltering 39 degrees, so a massive thanks to our WCG team from Malmesbury who coped with the intense heat to set up TB HIV Care’s stand – and deliver services to community members who came to the Thusong Centre in Paarl East. This year’s theme, “YES! YOU AND I CAN END TB,” charged the atmosphere with a powerful resolve, rallying individuals and organisations to join the global fight against TB.

The multi-stakeholder event included a candle-lighting ceremony in remembrance of those lost to TB; an address by the Provincial Minister of Health & Wellness for the Western Cape, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo; a message from Keith Cloete (Head: Health & Wellness); advocacy messages and poetry; and first-hand stories from those directly affected by TB. Prof. Harry Hausler, CEO of TB HIV Care, in his capacity as Chairperson of the Western Cape Civil Society Forum, delivered a message of support – reminding everyone that behind every statistic and every number is a person with TB.

Throughout the day, personal accounts from those who had endured the challenges of TB painted a vivid picture of the disease’s impact, and the importance of the work our teams do. A particularly memorable moment was the Awards Ceremony, honouring the courage of 25 survivors of drug-resistant TB (DR-TB). This celebration of courage and resilience stood as a testament to the progress in treatment and the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity.

The TB HIV Care Malmesbury team shone like the sun during the event. They were not only exemplary in providing HIV testing and counselling, TB screening and other health services but also in engaging the community with an educational game that became quite popular among attendees. This interactive approach to health education proved to be a big hit, effectively disseminating important health information while entertaining those present.

Thank you so much to everyone involved!