Success story: Govt’s sex education on call is a nationwide hit
Caller from Bihar: “What causes impotence? Can I be cured and satisfy my wife?”
Ministry of Health’s call centre-agent sitting in an airconditioned office in Delhi’s Mathura Road: “Are you stressed or depressed?”
Call-centre agent: “Do you drink, use drugs or smoke? Do you take medicine for diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure?”
Caller “I drink with friends in the evening, and I smoke bidis.”
Call-centre agent: “You have to stop that if you want to be cured. Stop worrying. The more anxious you are, the longer it will take for you to get well. If you don’t get results in a week or two, visit a qualified sarkari doctor.”
With sex education running into roadblocks in many states, the Centre evolved a new way of getting sexual health messages across: outsourcing. India calling
It worked. Twenty-somethings in an air-conditioned call centre in Delhi now answer queries on sex, contraception and reproductive health from across India. Launched in June last year by the Ministry of Health’s Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (JSK), the centre has answered 50,961 queries within one year.
The conversations are in English and Hindi, and a lot of the calls are from north India. Some employees break into dialect to answer callers from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Haryana.
The popularity of the scheme is burgeoning, especially in India’s rural hinterland, and there have been demands to set up regional centres in other parts of the country.
“The questions keep pouring in, averaging over 1,000 a week, with calls going up to 300 a day during the wedding season when prospective brides and grooms call to find out more about sex,” said Dr Asha Bansal, former professor of gynaecologist at Lady Hardinge Medical College, and the JSK consultant at the call centre.
Why do they call, and what do they find here? “Most callers are looking for answers to questions they are either too embarrassed to ask or don’t know who to ask,” says Dr Bansal.
Like most other call-centre employees, the JSK service is run by 23 to 28 years olds. The difference is that they are all science students who have trained with doctors at Delhi’s St Stephen’s hospital and Maulana Azad Medical College. The training apart, the employees have an online bank of 550 questions and answers (www.jsk.giv.in) that they can immediately refer to.
“We’ve started getting more questions from women and teenagers since the toll-free number (1800-11-6555) was launched in March this year. Most callers are very hesitant initially and the toll-free number gives them time to open up without worrying about the cost of the call, which is usually from outside Delhi,” said Shailaja Chandra, who launched the service as JSK’s executive director in June last year.
Most questions are about safe contraception methods, followed by queries on impotence, nightfall and infectious diseases.
Every year, 25 million babies are added to India’s 1.147 billion population mainly because only a little more than half — 56 per cent — women in the reproductive age of 15-49 years use contraception. “Our calls show that most women still rely on traditional methods because they don’t know any better,” said Dr Bansal.