George Lukonga, the senior pharmacist assistant at the Katima Mulilo Hospital in the Zambezi region of Namibia, is accustomed to dealing with 200 to 300 patients on antiretroviral therapy every day. The Zambezi region has an HIV prevalence rate of 23.7 percent.
Dispensing antiretrovirals to the hundreds of patients who visit the pharmacy daily was a daunting task, so Lukonga's colleagues were trained to use the electronic dispensing tool, better known as EDT.
The EDT is a software program that helps pharmacy staff efficiently manage both patients and their antiretrovirals. EDT monitors patients’ adherence to antiretroviral therapy, dispensing history, antiretroviral therapy regimen and status changes, appointment keeping, inventory management, and early warning indicators of HIV medicine resistance to antiretrovirals.
Before the EDT was implemented, pharmacy staff spent about 10 to 15 minutes per patient when dispensing antiretrovirals, which resulted in long and frustrating queues for patients.
"The EDT has simplified our work of dispensing antiretrovirals. We can now attend to more patients in a short period of time as opposed to before. With this tool, I can attend to one patient every two minutes. It is very simple to use and it has shortened pharmacy waiting time for the patients," said Lukonga.
Patient testimonies also confirm that the EDT has brought about speed and efficiency, which has eliminated hours of waiting for their medication.
"The whole process now takes less than an hour. Now I don't need to get up very early in the morning to travel from my village, which is 40 km from here. We are spending a very short time at this clinic," said Vincent Sitali, who receives his antiretrovirals from Bukalo Health Center in the Zambezi region.
This improvement came as a result of technical support provided to the Ministry of Health and Social Services by the Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services (SIAPS) Program, funded by USAID and implemented by MSH.
SIAPS has trained 80 health workers at 50 hospitals, health centers, and clinics across all 14 regions of Namibia on how to use the EDT. Meanwhile the Ministry of Health and Social Services continues to decentralize antiretroviral therapy services to primary health care facilities through the nurse-initiated and managed antiretroviral therapy strategy to bring services closer to patients in rural communities.
Lukonga received EDT training in 2014, with a refresher and facility-based support in 2015 and 2016. He has been instrumental in offering EDT refresher trainings to nurses at Bukalo and other primary health care facilities, which enables them to accurately capture antiretroviral therapy patient data.
The project, initiated during the Rational Pharmaceutical Management Plus project, a predecessor of SIAPS, is funded by the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and implemented by USAID.