Open source, locally manufactured vending machine for reproductive health products
In his interviews with citizens of Kumasi, Ghana in 2011, RPI grad student David Banks found that embarrassment at the point of purchase was a common and significant barrier to condom purchase. We hypothesized that condom vending machines might lower the barriers. Our initial test with a commercially available vending machine indicates that they do attract many users. As one respondent put it, “a machine does not judge you.”
Vending machines are expensive to import, and even if they were not, the profits would not go to the low-income communities who use them. But if a machine could be designed for manufacture using the tools and materials that are available locally, it could not only decrease HIV but also increase income for local artisans who fabricate them, as well as the vendors who maintain them. See https://github.com/OSCVM for blueprints and fabrication instructions. The project was awarded an NSF grant in 2015.
This image shows the initial prototype. The goals included fabrication using tools and materials more commonly available in Ghana; reliability for consumers; and flexibility for local modifications. The fabrication was first carried out at RPI, and then in Ghana at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), under the guidance of Jorge Appiah and his students in Creativity Group.
Feedback from the first site (an HIV clinic) suggested that the bare metal looked too “sterile” so we asked local artisans to create a cover for it. They use a stamped cloth tradition, adinkra, in which they create their own ink. In this way the local economy is better supported. Since the ink is from tree bark, those trees tend to be better protected from destruction. Thus the use of local ink would contribute to environmental support as well.
Professor Audrey Bennett worked with Adinkra artisans to create new symbols specific to the project. The traditional sankofa stamp, a bird looking backwards, symbolizes the retrieval of forgotten traditions, hence the sankofa saying, “you can always go back.” Here the artisans added a condom in its beak, re-interpreting the saying as “you can always go back for a condom.” Professor Bennett had showed them the international HIV awareness symbol, the ribbon, so they replicated that as well, adding a traditional adinkra symbol for protection, which is a series of dots. Finally, that cloth was added as a “skin”.
KNUST students wanted a more global, contemporary look, so they rebranded it as the Venus (in reference to the Greek goddess of love) and gave it a blue makeover. Here Daniel Nomostu and Mathias Nyaka demo their new version of the machine in 2016. In March 2017 the vending machine was adapted for pregnancy tests. Creativity Group at KNUST in Ghana has a new partnership with Incas Diagnostics, which produces a pregnancy and reproductive health testing kit. They intend to use the vending machine to dispense their kit in privacy.