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Times of India
11 October 2010
Pune, India

What should I do if I have a history of frequent miscarriages? Do I need to undergo any special tests before planning a pregnancy? My previous child is mentally challenged, how do I know whether my present baby will be normal or not? Is H1N1 vaccine safe during pregnancy? These are only some of the questions that the city’s Garbha–Swastha helpline is flooded with from expecting mothers from across the country.

The Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital and Research Centre, under its prenatal medicine programme, launched the helpline on September 18. The helpline number 020–40151500 became fully functional from September 20 and offers help in English, Hindi and Marathi.

A trained counsellor runs this service with the help of a specially designed software and a data base of more than 500 questions (FAQs) created by experts in obstetrics, fetal medicine, genetics, radiology, psychiatry, anesthesia etc, based on their experience.

A caller can ask any number of questions during the helpline timing. In case an answer is not available immediately, the counsellor seeks information from the expert concerned and gets back to the caller. If the line is busy, the caller can record the contact number and the counsellor calls back.

"The response so far has been very good. Besides calls coming in from Pune and adjoining areas, we have been receiving calls from cities like Sangli, Solapur, Nashik and Hyderabad. By launching the helpline exclusively dedicated to issues pertaining to pregnant women, we have helped bridge the vital gap in women’s healthcare," said Koumudi Godbole, a consultant clinical geneticist. Garbha–Swasthya helpline is not a substitute to actual medical consultation, but is a supportive service, she said.

This is probably the first preventive prenatal information service available over the phone, free of charge (except for cost of a call). The helpline has been getting about five to six calls per day, and wishes to increase the number so that more and more people know can take its advantage. Most common questions so far have been about diet during pregnancy, exposure to certain drugs, mood disturbances and miscarriages etc, added Godbole.

"The helpline provides immediate, authentic and scientific answers to questions. It advises the caller on the need of further treatment, if required," she said.

"We thought of this service because there are many couples who have medical and non–medical queries. Many of them may not get an opportunity to seek answers from doctors. Besides, some information needs to provided before a couple plans a pregnancy, especially in cases where a couple has had a child with some genetic disorder and wants to find out whether the same problem will occur again. Sometimes there are questions like the effect of some drug, especially psychiatric drugs on the child, infections and vaccinations during pregnancy, for example H1N1 or Rubella vaccine etc. Besides, there are also questions and queries regarding diet regimen and exercises," said Dhananjay Kelkar, medical director of the Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital.

"We wish that Garbha–Swasthya helpline reaches those dwelling in slums and villages where expert doctors may not be easily available. Of course, city–dwellers and the well–educated can also use it for their queries as often information available on the net is not directly applicable and it is not person–specific," said Godbole.

"We would like to convert this helpline into a toll–free number if we get a good response and would like to extend the timings further," she added.

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