‘Sorry! The number does not exist’ is the stock reply one gets on calling the service

A helpline service started in the State in 2009 as part of the battle against HIV is now battling for its revival.

The toll-free number — 1800 - 419 - 1800 — which was launched to provide round-the-clock psychological counselling to HIV/AIDS patients is non-functional now, though a huge amount of money was spent in the last four years.

Sources said the service had to be suspended owing to a lack of funding and the absence of technical expertise. The number has not been functional for the last six months, and the stock reply to calls to the number is “Sorry! This number does not exist.”

Introduced as a Public-Private Partnership project, the helpline facility, named ‘Hello+’, had brought together Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS), AIDS Prevention and Control Project, organisations involved in prevention of HIV/AIDS and Tata Group.

For its functioning, a call centre was established in Hyderabad, and counselling was given in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English.

“This service was meant to give guidance to people living with HIV/AIDS on treatment, testing centres, CD 4 count, nutritious food and so on. It was mainly a psychological support service for them,” an official said.

When it was inaugurated in Chennai in February 2009, the then Health Secretary, V.K.Subburaj, had said it should become a model to other States in giving right information to the needy.

Sources said over Rs.40 lakh was spent to create public awareness and for publicity of the toll-free number through posters, cards and billboards.

“Officials used to regularly visit Hyderabad by flight to monitor the call centre’s functioning. Everything seems to be waste now as no follow-up action was taken despite complaints,” lamented a field staff engaged in HIV prevention project.

Rajendra Ratnoo, senior IAS officer and Project Director of TANSACS in Chennai, told The Hindu over phone that the service had to be suspended due to financial constraints as an organisation withdrew from the project.

“I am taking steps to revive the same number soon and maintain it, and TANSACS will operate the free service independently. We are planning to have a call centre in Chennai at the office of Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project, whose support I am going to seek,” he added.

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