Celebrate Solutions: Increasing Access to HIV Medicine with Bicycles

By: Sara Pellegrom, Women Deliver

When Sizwe Nzima was a high school student in Cape Town, South Africa, he would pick up his grandparents’ HIV medications because they had difficulty getting to the clinic themselves. There were long lines and Mzima usually had to wait several hours and make multiple trips to the clinic to get the medicine. He even tried to bribe the pharmacists to speed up the process, but it didn’t work. This sparked an idea: an HIV medication delivery service.

Nzima did some research on the topic. He found that although some companies were delivering medicine to people’s homes, no one was servicing the city’s low-income neighborhoods – where unemployment is high and most people live in makeshift homes. Nzima contacted the companies to find out why and was told that it was not because the companies were not interested in working in these townships, but because they could not find the houses. 

"You punch [an address] into Google, Google won't find it," Nzima explained. "It needs local knowledge."

In South Africa, more than six million – one in eight – people have HIV. This has led to crowded clinics and long wait times. For some, the long lines mean taking a day off of work, resulting in lost income and opportunities. These people tend not to show up to the clinic at all and, therefore, often fail to adhere to their HIV treatment. Now 23, Nzima is trying to fix this problem. He has created his own bicycle-based, HIV medication delivery business – Iyeza Express. His delivery fee is about 90 cents.

One older man who receives his medicine from Nzima says that he loves having his medicine delivery one day each month. He said, “Because my wife and me, we are elderlies, and without my medication, I'm nothing."

Nzima started his business a few years ago with two customers – his grandmother and grandfather. But, he soon ran into a problem. The green vest he wore became an obvious sign that the person he was delivering to had HIV. He says that it deferred potential customers. In response, Nzima diversified the kinds of medications he distributed. After starting to deliver medication for things like diabetes and epilepsy, his business really took off. He now has 930 clients and a staff of six riders.

The business gets support from Hubspace, a local business incubation program that gives Iyeza Express free office space, including a telephone and internet access. If it weren’t for this backing Nzima says he would not be able to deliver the medicine at such a low cost.

Nzima may even branch out even further. Earlier this year, an international shipping company that is hoping to offer package delivery in urban Cape Town contacted him. They want Nzima and his team to be the deliverymen.

Flickr photo via Brian Wolfe

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