Madhya Pradesh, India
“Hello…Hello… I am calling for an ambulance. Please send one immediately”
Five minutes later, another call…
“Hello please send an ambulance immediately; my son has met with an accident….”
This is a regular day in the life of Ms. Monica Mishra, a tele-counselor who attends calls at the government set up emergency helpline number 104 in Madhya Pradesh. Monica attends to nearly 500-600 calls a day.
It goes without saying that almost every call that she receives is an emergency. She needs to have the right information, attitude and skills to not buckle under pressure, and also be able to provide relevant and timely information.
During a pandemic, the role of the tele-counselor becomes even more significant. In most cases, s/he becomes the first channel of communication with the community members, especially in case of an emergency. Also, during a time when a lot of fake news about the novel coronavirus disease is spreading over social media platforms, it becomes even more important to ensure that people receive accurate information.
Madhya Pradesh has a network of tele-counselors working across emergency health helpline number 104, emergency ambulance helpline number 108 and the Chief Minister’s helpline. These tele-counselors have been responding to queries across various domains, and have been roped in by the state for responding to the emergency situation of the novel coronavirus disease outbreak.
Monica, on sharing her initial experience of responding to COVID-19 calls, says “Earlier, I did not know how to give authentic information to all callers asking about (the new) coronavirus (disease). And, we get so many calls in a day. Nobody knew about this disease before, it just appeared suddenly and became this pandemic. They would ask questions on how to protect themselves, what to do in case of a cough, when and where to go for check-ups. We had no clarity about anything related to this disease.”
For this, Jhpiego led NISHTHA: Transforming Comprehensive Healthcare in India, a refresher training of tele-counselors providing standardized information on the COVID-19 pandemic, busting myths, and ensuring effective information dissemination to the community, without creating any panic. The participants were also given an overview of how COVID-19 spreads, preventive measures, and a demonstration of handwashing techniques and coughing etiquettes. A learning resource package was also developed which included job aids for these counselors.
After the training, Monica feels much better equipped to handle her roles and responsibilities. “After being trained by the NISHTHA team, I am feeling confident that I will be able to answer all the queries. I now know the symptoms of coronavirus, how to ask about their history on cough or fever. I am better equipped to educate the community,” says Monica.
Monica says the training has also been helpful in mitigating and reducing panic not only in the community, but also among her peers and other health workers, especially when there is so much false information circulated through social media platforms.
“NISHTHA team had taught us that although this is a serious situation and this virus can be deadly, but it is possible to reduce its spread through measures like regular handwashing, maintaining social distance, not shaking hands and doing Namaste (Indian form of greeting people with folded hands). I would like to thank NISHTHA team for giving this training so quickly and in such an effective manner.”
Funded by the US Agency for International Development, NISHTHA provides technical assistance to the national government and 12 state governments in implementing the country’s health and wellness centers under the world’s largest comprehensive primary health care program, Ayushman Bharat.
Jhpiego led NISHTHA is building the capacity of tele-counselors, community health officers and auxiliary nurse midwives across intervention states to equip these frontline health workers with adequate skills and knowledge to be able to respond aptly to their communities and provided quality care in the face of the pandemic. And tele-counselors like Monica are playing their small, yet significant role in it—one call at a time!