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Uber South Africa recently announced a partnership with Medicare, a health care and pharmacy group, to launch the delivery of over-the-counter medication using the Uber Eats app. 

But as groundbreaking as this announcement may sound, the service may well leave a lot of South Africans out of the picture. 

Because of the partnership, South Africans can now order schedule 1 and 2 medicines (meaning medication that is available for purchase without a prescription) for delivery to their door. This comes after the success that Uber Eats has had with its grocery delivery service that was launched during the national COVID-19 lockdown.  

Medicare CEO Tim Knapp went on to say in a statement that the partnership is just the beginning and the company would continue to find ways to prioritise convenience. “We strongly believe in reinventing pharmacy, and thanks to this partnership with Uber Eats this is made possible,” he said. 

Access to medicine is an obstacle for many South Africans. While the government has worked to make essential medicines more affordable, the poorest citizens live the furthest away from health care facilities. This means that a lot of their time and money is spent on transport to get to clinics and pharmacies, or they simply cannot afford the transport in the first place. 

While safe access to medication is crucial in a time when South Africans have been encouraged to limit their movements, the introduction of this new delivery service may not make that big of a difference in most South Africans’ lives. Here’s why: 

Medicine delivery services already exists

The delivery of medicine is not a new concept in South Africa. Retail pharmacy giants Clicks and Dischem have been delivering medicine long before the pandemic. The difference is that both pharmacies administer prescribed chronic medication for delivery rather than the over-the-counter medicine Uber Eats will be looking to provide. 

Clicks and Dischem also work to provide patients with reminders that their medication will be delivered at a certain date or that they require a new prescription. 

In contrast, the purpose of the Uber Eats service is for South Africans to order medicine on the app as and when they need it. This works within the context of the company, whose main service is to deliver food to people as and when they are hungry. 

Uber Eats is also not the first food delivery app to offer the service in South Africa. Mr Delivery teamed up with retail grocery store Checkers earlier this year to offer the delivery of medicine from their in-house pharmacies. 

There is a limit to where you can access the service

As with the delivery of food using the app, in order to receive medication, patients have to live near an area that has a Medicare pharmacy, of which there are only 51 in the country. 

Furthermore, Medicare only has pharmacies in four of South Africa’s nine provinces. This would leave more than half the country out of the loop. 

In comparison, Clicks has 470 pharmacies nationwide and Dischem has 165, and both have at least one pharmacy in every province.

Those who need it most will not benefit from the service

The introduction of this new medicine delivery service also highlights South Africa’s inequality, where only those who have the resources, namely a phone and internet connection or a data plan, will be able to benefit from this service. 

More than this, most of Medicare’s pharmacies are based in suburban areas that cater to the middle and upper class where most people can afford private transportation to pick up their medicine. 

One study conducted by BMC Health Services Research points out that the poorest in the country live the furthest from accessible health care facilities, meaning that these are the people who would benefit most from a medicine delivery service. 

As the Uber Eats service is still new and has only been running for less than a month, it is possible that, as Medicare’s CEO stated, this is just the beginning and making the service accessible to most South Africans will be Medicare and Uber’s next big priority. 


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