Dial H for health

Published: November 25, 2009 - 16:02 Updated: July 27, 2015 - 17:25

The Union ministry of health and family welfare has a toll-free helpline which provides information related to reproductive and sexual health to callers
Sumiran Preet Kaur Delhi

How many times can I use an emergency contraceptive pill? 
What are natural methods of contraception? 
Can I resume sexual intercourse after my wife has conceived?

These are some of the questions asked by callers at the toll-free helpline run by the ministry of health and family welfare. The aim is to provide correct information related to reproductive and sexual health. 
Every week, there are around 500 to 1,000 calls. A 27-year-old male caller from Karol Bagh in Delhi asked, "I have been married six months. To avoid pregnancy, I give my wife around three emergency contraceptive pills in a month after seeing an advertisement on television. But, now my wife has irregular menstrual cycles. What should I do?"
The call centre agent handling the helpline asked, "Did you or your wife consult a gynaecologist before popping the pill?" "No," came the reply. The caller was unaware of the health risks involved before he called the helpline.

He was told, "An emergency contraceptive pill is used as a last resort. You can only have it once in a lifetime and that, too, under a doctor's supervision. If you use it more than once, there could be side-effects like irregular menstrual cycles." He was then advised to adopt temporary methods of contraception instead. Medical experts have found that there is a huge lack of information about reproductive and sexual health both in urban and rural India.

Many people are shy about visiting medical facilities even though they don't have complete knowledge about contraception, safe abortion and sexually transmitted diseases. 

To fill this gap, Jansankhya Sthirta Kosh (JSK), a registered society affiliated to the Union health ministry, has come up with innovative ways aimed at stabilisation of the burgeoning population.The call centre is one such initiative of JSK to provide easy access to reliable information on reproductive and sexual health, contraception, pregnancy, infant and child health and related issues. Such outsourcing by the government is unique. The questions are answered by trained people, most of them in their twenties. The service, however, is not a substitute for the services of a qualified doctor.

According to the doctor on call, people do not have to face anybody while asking questions they cannot discuss even with family members. The anonymity gives them the confidence to ask about anything they want to know. 

"At the JSK call centre, information is given out in English and Hindi using a specially designed software. The service is used particularly by adolescents, newly-weds and soon-to-be married couples," said the doctor who did not wish to be named. The software was developed at the Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) in Delhi and technical training was imparted by MAMC and St Stephens Hospital, Delhi.Since early 2008, when the helpline started, more than 60,000 calls have been received from across the country till date. Most callers have contraception-related queries. Another frequently asked questions relate to sexual health concerns of men. 

The third most asked questions pertain to pregnancy, general health and HIV. A lot of youngsters call up with questions about pre-marital sex, said the doctor.According to Dr Amarjit Singh, executive director of JSK, "JSK also awards parents who have fulfilled specific responsible parenthood criteria by breaking stereotypes. For instance, those who marry off their girls after 19 get a reward of Rs 5,000. For giving birth to the first child after 21 years of age, the mother is given Rs 7,000 as a reward if it is a girl and Rs 5,000 if it is a boy. This initiative is called Prerna". Through Prerna, JSK aims to increase the marriageable age of the girls. Early marriage of girls leads to high female mortality rate and infant mortality rate. 

Another initiative of the JSK is Santushti. For this, an MOU has to be signed between the district health society and private nursing homes. JSK has involved private doctors (gynaecologists) to promote the use of intra-uterine contraceptive device (IUD) which can prevent pregnancy up to 10 years. IUD is a small object that is inserted through the cervix and placed in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Private doctors are trained to do these activities, said Singh.

The latest demographic projections by the Population Foundation of India (PFI) and Population Reference Bureau, USA, predict that India may have a population of two billion by 2101. By 2050, India will emerge as the most populous State in spite of being the first country to implement a population control policy in 1950. Four states with high fertility rates - Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan - would account for almost half of the country's population. So, JSK has opened call centres in northern India for now though they receive calls from all over the country. They also advertise in newspapers and radio to inform people about the toll-free helpline (1800 11 6555 and 011 6666 5555).

The Union ministry of health and family welfare has a toll-free helpline which provides information related to reproductive and sexual health to callers Sumiran Preet Kaur Delhi

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