Tobacco quitline gets 2K calls a day

And that’s 10 times more than it can handle, staff at Bengaluru centre say a day after Metrolife reality check.
Last Updated 16 January 2019, 18:46 IST

The staff manning the tobacco quitline at Nimhans are swamped by calls every day. That means thousands of smokers are taking the effort to call the toll-free number (1800 11 2356) and seeking help.

About 80 counsellors, working throughout India, get between 5,000 and 12,000 calls a day. Since a counsellor spends 25-30 minutes on a call, only about 400 calls can be answered, says Sudarshan Hegde, supervisor, National Tobacco QuitLine Services (NTQLS), Nimhans, Bengaluru.

Nimhans has 18-20 counsellors working at the helpline. “We get about 2,000 IVR hits in a day. We are only able to answer 250-300 calls and make 200-250 outbound (follow-up) calls,” he says.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is an automated telephony system that gathers information from callers and routes calls to the appropriate section.

Sudarshan says the counsellor strength in Bengaluru will go up by 10 per cent soon. “There were some technical glitches we needed to sort out,” he says.

The national quitline works from multiple centres. The Delhi centre gets 5,000-10,000 calls a day, he says. “We need 10 times the present number of counsellors to attend to all calls,” he says.

India spends about 1.15 per cent of its GDP on health—one of the lowest proportions in the world. Funds allocated for de-addiction is 0.1-0.2 per cent of the allocation.

“We will ask for more funds in the next budget and also request the Centre for more counsellors,” says Hegde.

The quitline is directly controlled by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in Delhi.

When did it start?

In Delhi, the quitline has been working for two years and a half. Other centres began functioning in September 2018. Mumbai is the latest: it started functioning a week ago.

Awareness handle

The tobacco quitline now has a Twitter handle (@NTQLNimhans) to create awareness through hashtag campaigns.

(Published 16 January 2019, 13:32 IST)

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