ISLAMABAD: To curb the issue of increasing cases of communicable diseases amongst children, The Child Health Helpline — a public private partnership between Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) and a private telecommunication network — launched earlier this month is Pakistan’s first initiative to enable people to access real-time healthcare information regarding children via phone calls.
According to an official at the Prime Minister’s Polio Cell, The Child Health Helpline was initially the Polio Hotline and was a part of a previous strategy that did not materialise for a numerous reasons. In 2013, all communication started shifted to convergence, merging polio with overall child immunisation strategies that includes eight other diseases. There were also issues with PTA not providing operators, and the initiative remained shelved until being merged under the new strategy, the official said.
Speaking to The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity, a UNICEF official said the National Child Health Helpline was established to provide accurate, real-time information on child healthcare services in Pakistan.
UNICEF Spokesperson Sami Malik said that the first phase of the helpline will serve as a first-point-of-contact to dispel misconceptions about polio vaccination as well as providing general information and guidance on child health and well-being. The helpline will also include information for other childhood diseases over the coming months.
According to the official statement issued on the End Polio website, parents and health advice seekers can dial the toll free number 0800-222-99 from a landline and get connected to a dedicated operator for general health information and have broad discussions regarding their child’s health, including schedules for immunisation services and drives. The helpline will also act as a feed-in centre for children who have missed polio vaccination.
The information provided through the helpline is expected to eliminate barriers to health awareness and accurate information that might exist due to language and lack of education and mobility.
The service will initially be available five days a week and will have dedicated operators who speak regional languages including Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi and Siraiki. Female operators will also be available for female callers.
UNICEF has already held training for helpline operators on frequently asked questions and referral modalities.
The total number of polio cases in 2014 has risen to 94 in 13 infected districts, towns and tribal agencies.
Of the total, 92 per cent of cases this year were reported from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, while 64 per cent of the total are from North and South Waziristan agencies alone, despite the agencies barely representing one per cent of the country’s total population. Almost all of the cases reported from North and South Waziristan agencies in 2014 occurred in children that had not received any doses of oral polio vaccine (OPV).
No polio campaigns have been conducted in North or South Waziristan agencies since June 2012.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2014.