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Healthcare Vending Machines

Inspired by Irune's posting on Dispensaries in Ecuador, what if we think of a model to deliver basic health-care items such as vitamins, oral rehydration salts, birth kits, condoms, zinc tablets, etc. via a vending machine?

Photo of Krassimira Iordanova
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Placement: the vending machine could be placed closed to the local store where people usually go to purchase stuff.
Supply: A group of youngsters on bikes and backpacks will supply the vending machines. They will travel to the pharmacy in the city or a wholesaler, purchase basic medication, which can be delivered to the the remote rural areas without the need of a prescription from a physician, in bulk and resell it via the vending machines.
Training: The youngsters will receive a basic training, say 2-3 days to understand what they are buying/selling.
Demand: the buyers are local people in need for some basic medication. A plastic flipcard could hang on the vending machine with pictorial instructions i.e. how to use a condom, how to use oral rehydration salts in case of diarrhea for a child, for adult, etc.

Source of inspiration:

Additional source of inspiration: Today I read that China’s answer to anemia in rural regions has been to feed children eggs. Nearly 40 percent of kids in Gansu Province, one of China’s poorest places, have the iron deficiency, which often leads to lethargy and developmental problems that can impede their school performance and hurt their chances of leaving this desolate area for well-paying jobs in the city.

Researchers are comparing Gansu with a neighboring province, where the children receive vitamins every morning. Early results from two tests involving about 1,600 children show the eggs did nothing to lower the anemia rates in Gansu. In villages where kids received a chewable vitamin every day, anemia usually went down by as much as 45 percent. It’s a cheap fix—about 3 cents a day—to a problem that could have big societal costs.

A mom of a kid who as participating in the program says she’d like to buy vitamins once her son stops getting them through the program, but there’s a hitch: She doesn’t know where she’d get them, and she has no idea how much they would cost.

So, vitamins from the local health vending machine might be a good start? What do you think?


Join the conversation:

Photo of David Chang

I like the initiative. How could we tackle security? In some towns in Ecuador, robbers could pose a big threat to backpackers carrying medicine to the vending machines. Also, we could think about the usage of green sources of energy (solar, eolic?), so this could be applied in rural areas.

Photo of DeletedUser


This is a very interesting and doable idea Krassimira. This concept seems scalable as well.

The Flipcard is a lovely idea, we could even supplement it with tele-medicine.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Interesting idea, Krassimira. Though before drifting into Concepts – perhaps we might continue to explore existing ways in which malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies are currently being addressed globally – and great to see you starting to do that here with your example of China. There's also the issue of awareness-building around the benefits of vitamin supplementation. Anyone got any great examples of how that's been addressed for low-income populations?

Photo of Irune Gonzalez Cruz

Yes, yes, yes! I agree with Sonia. People living in rural areas have mobility difficulties and bringing basic medicine closer could be a good starting point for a solution.

I like the part where you mention having some kind of a plastic flip-card with instructions, information and pieces of advice. People are shy and sometimes don't dare to ask doctors or chemists health related concerns (not to talk about sexuality) and they usually speak different languages. The pictorical language could work well for arousing curiosity and education.

I've checked The Aid Backpacker concept and I must say I am amazed by OpenIDEO platform and by the people in the community. Very looking forward to seeing what we all are able to do, even if we have never seen each other before.

Photo of Krassimira Iordanova

Irune, thanks for your comment. The plastic flipbook with visuals, which we had as an idea from the maternal health challenge, could turn useful as, like you say, people are very shy especially when it comes to sexuality. Often this topic is tabu. Additionally, the backpackers could distribute some of these flipbooks to those who want to have them at home for a small amount. What do you think?

Photo of DeletedUser


Keeping in mind the rough mountain terrain in Caldas, this approach might be a good solution to get access to some basic medication.