Economy

Piramal’s 104 helpline delivers health to India’s rural masses

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla Mumbai | Updated on December 26, 2013 Published on December 26, 2013

The helpline was launched to address the medical issues of people in tribal areas with no access to a hospital.

Anusyabai Pawar from Khandala, Satara, was frantic. She was about to deliver her first child, and no gynaecologist near her home in the hilly region had conducted a Caesarean section. A call was placed to the 104 helpline, and following the guidance on the procedures to be followed, the baby was delivered safely.

70 million callers

More than the new mother, there was another individual several miles away in Mumbai who was delighted at the safe delivery.

Swati Piramal, Vice-Chairperson, Piramal Enterprises, was elated that the new mother was among the 70 million callers to be advised by the company’s Health Management and Research Institute’s (HMRI) 104 health helpline.

“The helpline was launched to address basic medical issues such as pain in the stomach, or a headache, and to cater to the underserved rural populace, especially people in tribal areas, who don’t have access to a hospital. It has gone beyond that. We are dispensing medical advice with the help of the telecom revolution,” Piramal told Business Line.

Speaking about the existence of the huge, unmet healthcare needs in the rural hinterlands, Piramal said, “It is a public-private partnership with the State Governments. In Maharashtra, we have a call centre called Asha, which received over 3 lakh calls in just six months. In Andhra Pradesh, we received over a million calls for medical help this year. In Assam and Andhra Pradesh, the call centre receives over 35,000 calls a day.”

The challenge, she said, is to make health care accessible to the masses.

“Telemedicine is a good strategy to reach out, but the scale will come only through effective Government intervention,” said Piramal. HMRI is a primary healthcare initiative under the Piramal Foundation. The first Health Advice Call Centre was launched in Pune on January 27, 2013, and has serviced over 4 lakh calls since its launch.

Treatment

The call centre responds with recommended prescription and treatment. In some cases, doctors at the call centre validate the diagnosis and recommend treatment.

“The Raipur call centre is equipped with trained paramedics, counsellors and doctors. The paramedics aid in providing basic medical advice, whereas the doctors provide expert advice,” said Piramal, adding that the Raipur health helpline would be connected to medical colleges and district hospitals in the near termto further its reach.

Balaji Utla, CEO, HMRI added, “conventional brick and mortar dispensaries can’t go far. Through this healthcare initiative, the Piramal Foundation aims to leverage the latest technologies and to augment existing public healthcare delivery systems. The ultimate goal is to bring healthcare to the last mile.”

As of now, the 104 health helpline is available in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharasthra and Karnataka, in partnership with the respective State Governments. HMRI has also won the bid for the helpline in Jharkhand recently.

Expansion

For Piramal, the need to expand to other States is urgent. “We need specialists for maternal health, infant health and need qualified gynaecologists. We have to man the call centres with qualified doctors and specialists for sick villagers who can even come to the centre. We provide digital medical help to the villagers, and we want to team up with other State Governments keen to do the same,” she added.

amritanair.ghaswalla@thehindu.co.in

Published on December 26, 2013
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