Toll free answers to pregnancy or puberty queries

New Delhi, Nov 15 ( Got questions about pregnancy, puberty or plain simple facts about the birds and bees? If you have such queries on your mind and are afraid to ask parents or share with friends — just dial a government-run toll free helpline.

The helpline (1800-11-6555 or 011-6666-5555), run by the Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (JSK) or the National Population Stabilisation Fund of the health ministry, receives over 300 calls per day.

“We receive calls on this helpline number from both men and women. We get over 300 calls a day on issues of safe contraception and even unwanted pregnancy,” Shalini Shukla, communication officer for the campaign, told Inditop.

The helpline is primarily aimed at Hindi-speaking areas. The numbers are available 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week in both Hindi and English.

The helpline, started in June 2008, was made toll free in March this year.

It intends to fill the information gap on contraception, safe abortion, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, infant and child health issues in teen aged mothers or unmarried and newly married couples, Shukla said.

“We received an overwhelming response and that’s why we made the helpline number toll free. There is a major dearth of information in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand where access to such information is not easily available,” Shukla said.

JSK has set up a grand display and information stall at the health pavilion of the ongoing Indian International Trade Fair at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi that will be open to public from Nov 19-27.

“We have advertised this helpline number very little, still we have received good response. People want to know about these things and this shows how much of a gap and taboo exists in our society on sex education,” Shukla stressed.

The helpline call centre is manned by people who answer queries from a bank of questions and answers prepared with the assistance of doctors from leading medical institutes in the country including the Maulana Azad Medical College, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the Lady Hardinge Medical College.

The call centre is run by a private BPO unit and trained agents assisted by a gynaecologist.

A doctor assisting the helpline stressed that “a toll free number is easy to remember and provides reliable information anonymously on all questions people want to ask but are shy to do so face to face”.

According to the health ministry most under-age marriages are due to lack of education and information.

As per the Nation Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2005-2006, a high percentage of girls and boys were married before they reached the legal age of 18 years and 21 years respectively.

Underaged marriages are prevalent in states like Jharkhand (70 percent women and 50 percent men), Bihar (69 percent women and 42 percent men) and Rajasthan (63 percent women and 59 percent men).

According to JSK, teenage pregnancies are an overwhelming cause of maternal deaths in the country, and around 3.5 million teenagers in India begin child bearing each year.