HIV prevention in Ghana

Ron Eglash, Audrey Bennett, David Banks, Jorge Appiah, Helena Afriyie-Siaw

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 embarrasment 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 avaiable vending machine indicates that they do attract many users. As one respondant 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 for blueprints and fabrication instructions. The project was awarded an NSF grant in 2015.

Below shows the proototype from RPI. The goals included fabrication using tools and materials more commonly available in Ghana; reliability for consumers; and flexibility for local modifications.

Feedback from the site suggested that the bare metal looked too "sterile" so we asked our Adinkra artisans to create a cover for it. 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 for firewood, thus contributing to environmental support as well.

condom machine

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.

blue machine

March 2017: Vending machine 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 incas machine NEWS:

March 2017 Vending machine adapted for pregnancy test

July 2016 KNUST students redesign machine and exhibit in African conventions

Indigneous media for HIV awareness

Adinkra are symbols used in a stamped cloth process in Ghana. There are dozens of different Adinkra symbols. In 2011 RPI professor Audrey Bennett worked with traditional adinkra artisans to develop new stamps for cloth that can promote HIV awareness. The traditional sankofa stamp, a bird looking backwards, symbolizes the retrivial of forgotten traditions; "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.

One advantage of using indigenous media is that it helps to support a craft economy that contributes to both ecological and cultural sustainability. As noted in the column at left, the ink is from tree bark, and thus those trees tend to be better protected from destruction for firewood. The calabash carving sustains a skilled and respected labor role, and the hand-woven cloth allows low barriers for self-employment. Working with local schools we have applied the stamps and cloth in math and computing education as well.


clothsankofa remaderibbon stamp

Electronic media for HIV awareness

Cell phones are common in Ghana. How can that technology to help with condom distribution? One possibility is to have the machine text the vendor when it is empty. Cell phone "shields" are expensive but you can buy a cheap cell phone for much less and directly connect it to an Arduino as shown below. For more see

By combining cell phone technology with the new stamp, we hope to develop a locator system so that anyone who texts the number on the card can find the nearest condom vending machine. For more information see:


hacked cell phone card
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