The Guy Who Delivers HIV Medicine On His Bicycle : Goats and Soda A South African teenager got tired of waiting in the clinic for his grandparents' HIV meds. So he came up with a solution. All it took was a bicycle.
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The Guy Who Delivers HIV Medicine On His Bicycle

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The Guy Who Delivers HIV Medicine On His Bicycle

The Guy Who Delivers HIV Medicine On His Bicycle

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HIV medicine is more widely available than ever before. More than 10 million people around the world now have access to the life-saving drugs. But actually getting those drugs from the local clinic isn't always easy. NPR's Anders Kelto explains why.

ANDERS KELTO, BYLINE: I recently stopped by an HIV clinic in Cape Town, South Africa, and it was a familiar scene - dozens of people sitting on wooden benches looking really, really bored.

KUMELO ENCLAZANE: (Foreign language spoken).

KELTO: Kumelo Enclazane (ph) told me he'd been at the clinic since six in the morning. It was two in the afternoon. I turns out long waits are a common problem across Africa, and for a poor person, it can be more than just an annoyance.

SUHAIR SOLOMON: You're asking a patient to come and sit in a clinic for more than four or five hours. It really can have a significant negative impact on their life.

KELTO: Suhair Solomon is an HIV expert with Doctors Without Borders in Cape Town. She says spending all day at the clinic means missing work and losing money, but here's the part that surprised me. Because of this lost income and the long waits, a lot of people just don't show up. Tens of thousands - maybe hundreds of thousands of people get sick and even die because of long lines. Doctors Without Borders has come up with one solution. They've created HIV clubs that deliver medicine much more quickly.

SOLOMON: At an adherence club, you'll sit for a maximum of 45 minutes to an hour.

KELTO: There's also a new pharmacy in South Africa with a special machine that dispenses HIV medicine almost immediately. But perhaps the best solution has come from this guy, 23-year-old Sizwe Nzima.

SIZWE NZIMA: That looks like a nice bike.

KELTO: He's really into bikes, especially mine which actually isn't that nice.

NZIMA: Wow, that's nice. Woah, woah, now that is what I'm talking about.

KELTO: I met him at his small office in a low-income part of Cape Town. He was stuffing white plastic bags into a backpack.

NZIMA: OK, these are the medication packs.

KELTO: Once his backpack was full, he hopped on his bike.

NZIMA: OK, let's rock and roll - Sizwe on the journey.

KELTO: When Nzima was a teenager, he used to pick up his grandparents HIV medicine. He said he would get so frustrated with the long waits that he actually tried to bribe the pharmacist.

NZIMA: Can you do this for me? Can you keep this medication for me until I get back at a certain time?

KELTO: Then he thought wait, instead of paying money, why not try to make money here by starting a medicine delivery service? He did some research and found lots of companies that delivered meds, but none were operating in Cape Town's urban townships where most people live in shacks without addresses. And, Nzima said, even if a place has an address, it won't help.

NZIMA: You punch that in Google, Google won't give it to you.

KELTO: So you just - you need someone that knows the area.

NZIMA: It needs local knowledge.

KELTO: So he turned his local knowledge into the first business of its kind, a bike delivery service for HIV patients. He peddled along a narrow road past rows of shacks. At one point, he almost got attacked by a dog.

Of the many dangers he faces - speeding cars, robbers - he said dogs, they're the worst.

NZIMA: That's the biggest hazard. Look, check these guys out. No, no, no, no.

KELTO: He made a few more turns and eventually arrived at a small brick house.

NZIMA: Don't worry you don't have to lock our bikes. You can just put them down.

KELTO: A man with gray hair answered the door.

NZIMA: (Foreign language spoken).

KELTO: Nzima handed him the medicine and collected a delivery fee - about 90 cents. I asked the man, named Loyce Peko, what he thought of this service.

LOYCE PEKO: Oh that's very wonderful. It is because my wife and me - we are elderly's, and without my medication, I'm nothing.

KELTO: The two thanked each other and Nzima got back on his bike. When he started this business a few years ago, Nzima had just two clients, his grandma and his grandpa. Now he's got a lot more.

NZIMA: 694.

KELTO: Clients?



NZIMA: I'm doing good, man.

KELTO: He also has a staff of six, and like any good businessman, he keeps expanding the company. Anders Kelto, NPR News.

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