A Hyderabad-based non-government organization has started a national toll-free tele-medicine consultation service to help citizens with Covid-19 symptoms.
There will be a team of 20 doctors available to attend the calls between 10 am to 10 pm on a toll-free number—18005722384. If a caller did not get a prescription within an hour of tele-consultation, he or she can message on WhatsApp number 9121806777.
The initiative is the brainchild of Syed Munawer, General Secretary of the NGO – The Quran Foundation. Established in 2009, the foundation conducts several social-welfare work for the poor irrespective of one’s religion or caste, functions based on the donations made by its members as well as public support. It also funding the initiative and paying consultation charges of doctors.
“This is the first free consultation started by a group of non-medical people. The toll- free number (18005722384) will also help those who have Covid-like symptoms but do not have the wherewithal to see a doctor and pay money,” Munawer, told this correspondent on phone from Hyderabad.
The foundation has been providing various services since the outbreak of the disease in India. Tele-medicine consultation is the fourth initiative of the group comprising 10 members, most of whom are professionals, in this time of crisis.
A member of the team, Dr Shaikh Mukhtadir Yakub appeals to people for free tele-consultation
The idea, said Munawer, came after a personal experience. “I have elderly parents at home who have health problems. I would take them to doctors for regular check-ups but after the pandemic, it was difficult,” he said.
Though the toll-free service that started on August 17 has been planned for a month, the NGO may extend it if the response is good. Currently, about 25-30 callers contact the doctors daily. A person can call on the number and speak to a doctor who takes down details like name, age and symptoms and gives a feedback.
“We are using an app for doctors to prescribe the medicine that is sent to a patient’s mobile phone through SMS and WhatsApp. But if someone calls up with serious symptoms, we recommend them to get hospitalised,” Munawer mentioned.
When asked why the NGO started the online treatment after four months into the pandemic, Munawer admitted that it should have come at least two months back but “it took months to finalise the list of doctors and to have the technical set-up in place”.
Dr Javed Ahmed, a consulting doctor for the latest initiative, has spoken to about 20 callers since the launch of the service and prescribed medicines to eight. Speaking to the correspondent over the phone, Ahmed said the tele-medicine consultation comes at the right time when most of the private clinics have been shut down and people are scared to go to hospitals, many of which have been converted into Covid care centres. “Many people have queries about symptoms, which are similar to the common cold. Some need just medication. We send the prescription through SMS or WhatsApp and the person concerned can download it,” he said.
According to Munawer, the initiative will help people in many ways. “Nowadays, hospital charges are high. We have also seen ambiguity in Covid tests. Most importantly, infrastructure, like the number of beds in hospitals, is poor. So this first line treatment will help tackle these problems.”
In the last four months, the foundation also distributed 1,000 Covid-19 protection kits among daily wage earners and 20 oxygen concentrators to hospitals.