The coronavirus outbreak has entered Bangladesh not just as a threat to public health, rather it has disrupted almost every aspect of life. In such circumstances, already-existing infrastructure and services can play a tremendous role in easing citizens’ problems. The national helpline ‘333’ is one such service that has been serving Bangladeshis for almost two years, and it has stepped up to address issues ranging from relief assistance to telemedicine services.
Getting medical advice from the safety of home
When Mizanur Rahman’s temperature reached 103 degrees, accompanied with a mild cough, he was rightly concerned.
Mizanur, like many, had Covid-19 symptoms but was not sure how he would get to the end of it. Hospitals were crowded, doctors were unavailable and going to a hospital posed further risk of contagion.
He found out that the national helpline 333 was providing telemedicine service, and he did not wait to call the number.
“Some people had said it would be difficult to get connected with an agent and required multiple attempts, but to my surprise, my call went through in the first attempt,” said Mizanur.
The call centre agent forwarded his call to a registered physician from the helpline’s Doctors’ Pool, who closely listened to Mizanur’s symptoms.
He came to the conclusion that it was unlikely that Mizanur had Covid-19, and prescribed him medicine for the fever.
“The doctor told me to dial 333 again if I faced further complications, and messaged me the prescription,” said Mizanur, “My condition then improved within a week.”
“The service was very helpful amid this shutdown. I would definitely recommend others to avail this if they’re in need of medical consultation,” Mizanur added.
Emergency food assistance for the underprivileged
Kuddus Miah (not his real name), from Fulbari upazila of Kurigram, used to make a living through his small tea stall at a busy street.
He would work relentlessly to support his family of seven. “My daily income wasn’t a lot but it was enough to put food on the table, pay rent, and ensure education for my three children,” he said.
But after the coronavirus pandemic hit Bangladesh, Kuddus had to close his tea stall amid the government-enforced shutdown. His income was completely taken away.
“I used my last bit of savings to buy one week’s groceries (rice, lentils, salt and oil) for my family and did not know how I would manage the rest. Rent was due, and I had to take care of my family. I was unsure how I’d make ends meet,” said Kuddus.
That is when Kuddus noticed that the national helpline 333 was available for people in need of relief packages. He explained his situation to the call centre agent, who redirected these concerns to the upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) of Fulbari.
On that very night, the UNO arranged for the delivery of a month’s worth of ration to Kuddus’ home. “I am glad that the helpline came through, this relief package was crucial for my family’s survival,” he said.
Doctor coming through for people amid the crisis
Dr J Taher Renesa, who worked at a local hospital in Kishoreganj, had been fighting on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak. But he started showing symptoms of Covid-19 himself a few weeks ago.
He immediately went into home quarantine and took the detection test. The result came back positive, so he self-isolated at home and followed all health guidelines, yet he and his family had to face social stigma.
Meanwhile, Dr Taher had already enlisted for a2i’s Doctors’ Pool, through which expert physicians provide telemedicine services on the helpline 333.
Dr Taher had completed the Directorate General of Health Services’ (DGHS) course on Covid-19 through the national e-learning platform developed by a2i, MuktoPaath, and completed his registration for telemedicine service.
He had been providing telemedicine consultations alongside physically caring for patients at the hospital.
Despite the stress of being isolated and stigmatised after contracting Covid-19, and the physical strain the illness brought, Dr Taher refused to back down. “I was bed-ridden, but I was okay enough to carry out my duties remotely, at least,” he said.
So, he continued to provide consultations to citizens who called the helpline, sticking to what he calls his “responsibility to the public.”
Dr Taher’s commitment to his noble profession is exemplary, and hundreds of doctors like him are making it possible for the helpline to serve Bangladesh’s citizens.
Dr Taher has since recovered from Covid-19 and he’s carrying out his duties with vigour.
The helpline ‘333’ is an initiative of a2i programme of the ICT Division, supported by the Cabinet Division and United Nations Development Programme Bangladesh (UNDP).
It was launched in 2018 to assist citizens with information on procedure of getting government services, contact details of public representatives and government staff, information on tourist spots, different districts and weather events, as well as receiving complaints and providing remedy for various societal problems such as child marriage, food adulteration, sexual harassment and narcotics.
This helpline is accessible 24/7 and it allows Non-Resident Bangladeshis (NRBs) to receive various services as well. So far, ‘333’ has responded to over 4.4 million calls, addressed more than 18,000 social problems and stopped over 5,400 child marriages from happening, in collaboration with district level local administrations.
As the pandemic hit Bangladesh, the helpline has adapted to the current times, and has been providing information on precautions, health guidelines, and directives on suspected Covid-19 infections.
Through its Doctors’ Pool of over 4,000 registered professionals, the helpline has provided telemedicine services to over 350,000 people.
Since April 5, the helpline has also responded to calls for relief, arranging for food assistance with help from the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and local governments. Until April 28, the helpline responded to 46,673 families’ calls for food assistance.
The helpline is instrumental to responding to citizens’ needs promptly, and it continues to serve those who are in need, without any added hassle or bureaucratic delays.