As many as 4.19 lakh callers from across the State have availed themselves of the services provided by the 104 ‘Arogyavani’, the health helpline started by the State government in June 2013. And, 5.26 per cent of the total number of callers is from Bangalore.
The queries of the callers ranged from those related to acne and abdominal pain to headache and other problems such as lack of concentration.
Netra Rani, nodal officer for the 104 service at the Department of Health and Family Welfare Services said calls are first registered and then attended to at three levels: either by the health advice officers or doctors or counselling officers.
According to her, till date, as many as 2.53 lakh calls have been received by the health advice officers, 54,143 calls by doctors and 9,632 calls were answered by counselling officers. And, as many as 3,139 people had called with queries on government services.
“While health advice officers provide remedies and general tips for a medical ailment, doctors prescribe drugs and counsellors provide help to patients with psychological problems”, Dr. Rani said.
Among the callers, most had queries regarding acne followed by abdominal pain, reducing and gaining weight, and also on cold and appetite-related issues.
Acne also figures among the major physiological problems attended to by the health advice officers, besides cold, headache, abdominal pain and migraine. Quite a few callers also sought solution to sexual, emotional and memory-related problems. Many of them wanted to know how they can be rid of depression. Of the total number of calls received, as many as 37,339 were from Gulbarga, 35,464 from Bijapur, 30,406 from Belgaum, 24,382 from Bagalkot and 22,100 calls from Bangalore.
Manjunath N. (30) from Maskihalli, Lingasur taluk, Raichur district, called the helpline at least 15 times seeking help to overcome depression. “As there was no psychiatrist in the local hospital, I could avail myself of the treatment for depression over the phone from the helpline’s psychiatrist. From the helpline I also got advice on diet that I should follow. Arogyavani is of great help to me,” he said.
With healthcare facility in most districts in the State not being on a par with that available in Bangalore, many callers assume that the health helpline can help them get free and quick medical advice. But a helpline cannot be a substitute for healthcare facilities manned by professionals, says Giridhara R. Babu, Associate Professor at the Public Health Foundation of India. “The helpline cannot be a substitute for providing health services in the rural areas. It can at best be a supplementary service,” he said.
Prof. Giridhara Babu added that the 104 ‘Arogyavani’ helpline should streamline calls received and follow up on them so that patients with serious ailments visit hospitals.“While experts at the 104 ‘Arogyavani’ helpline suggest drugs for people with minor ailments, there is a need to ensure that those with major ailments go to the hospital for further treatment,” he said, adding that in some cases, physical examination of the patients by the doctors is necessary.
About the misuse of the helpline, a personnel manning the Arogyavani pointed out that as many as 8.17 lakh people had called the Arogyavani since its inception. But only 4.19 lakh were genuine calls while the rest of them were fake. He also said that many callers harass the female staff by repeatedly calling without any reason. “We block numbers if the callers repeatedly harass the female staff. We even tell them that if they continue to make prank calls, they might not be able to avail themselves of the help when they genuinely need it,” he said, adding that the matter had been reported to the Health Commissioner.