MERI SAATHI

 16600119756 (NTC) and 9801119756 (NCELL)

Providing quality counseling services on sensitive sexual and reproductive health issues

Marie Stopes International’s experience around the world has shown that the best way to reach young people with information about sexual and reproductive health is to provide it in a convenient, confidential and low-cost way. Establishing up Free helpline in Nepal has also shown that helpline can offer the anonymity that is invaluable when addressing topics that are typically considered embarrassing or taboo. With this objective, Marie Stopes Nepal launched a sexual and reproductive health telephonic helpline in December 2011 to expand access to sexual and reproductive health advice particularly for young adults.

“Every call is an opportunity to enhance client relations, your image and the image of the service center or organization”

Meri Saathi helpline is managed by trained and skilled counselors and directed by qualified clinical experts in sexual and reproductive health. Staffed by one coordinator and four helpline counselors who have a health background- the free helpline numbers provides confidential counseling to callers from across the country. The team members have received training on youth friendly service, gender based violence and call center operations. They value the essence of providing non-judgmental counseling to all callers.

According to INCITE Study, Youth are engaging in opportunistic sex (without any preparation). Young people have knowledge of contraception but only little and they want to learn more. 71% of youth ‘know a little about available family planning services’ and 9% ‘don’t know anything about family planning’ whereas 26% of 20-24 year said they know quite a lot / a great deal about contraception and family planning, compared to 17% of 15-19 year old. The main barrier to reach youth regarding SRH information and services is stigma related to it. Meri Saathi helpline has been able to address the queries of its callers with confidentiality which has lead many adolescent to be first counseled through a helpline service before they consider face to face contact with a provider at Marie Stopes Centers.

87% of young people prefer to be counseled by Helpline- INCITE 2014”

How the Helpline has helped:

After the establishment of Meri Saathi Helpline in December 2011, the numbers of calls increased gradually, reaching 500 callers in 2012. However, the breakthrough came in September 2013, when Marie Stopes Nepal managed to promote Meri Saathi in its every promotional materials and events. At the same time, Meri Saathi was highly promoted through youth interactive weekly radio program Khuldulee under DFAT Youth project. Due to high number of callers, the number of staff at the helpline was increased from two to four counselors. In 2016, the Meri Saathi Helpline received a total of 72,000 calls (6000 callers/month). The service is particularly popular among young people. 71% of all callers are younger than 25 years old. Surprisingly high number of men used the service. Although male callers are high, most of the issues are related to their female partners like girl friends and wives. Meri Saathi has been a good initiation which has been talking to huge number of male regarding SRHR. 50% of callers are referred from the youth interactive weekly radio program and 14% are referred by satisfied clients.

Meri Saathi receives calls from all over the Nepal but almost half of the calls originated from the capital. With increase in promotion of Meri Saathi Free Helpline numbers in rural areas, it is expected that this bias will ease off over time.

Most of the callers asked questions related to sexual health like masturbation, ejaculation, penis size, menstruation, etc followed by questions on family planning and topics related to safe abortion. Callers are also curious to know about STIs and HIV. The helpline refers 15% of its call to Marie Stopes Centers and other government health facilities for further services.

Conclusion:

We believe in informed choice which is not possible without accurate information and quality counseling. This is the reason why we are working so hard to open more effective channels of communications with young people. The Meri Saathi helpline is providing essential health information to young people-including vulnerable populations and generating referrals to health providers.

The volume of the calls, prevalence of repeat callers and steady increase in referrals from other sources like friends, advertisement etc demonstrates an enormous demand for information on sexual and reproductive health. It shows that the helpline was seen as both an acceptable and trusted communication channel for young people in Nepal. Future plans involve extending the scope of counseling provided by helpline and strengthening the referrals to other health providers outside of MSCs for HIV and GBV. We are also planning to incorporate Helpline with live chat and social media activation.