Working in the COVID-19 response call centre: Experience of a Vihaan field worker

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Ashok at the COVID-19 response centre

Ashok at the COVID-19 response centre

Ashok is working as Project Coordinator in Vihaan Care and Support Centre in Bijapur (Karnataka). He has completed his masters in social work in 2010 and from the last 10 years, he has been involved in various HIV prevention programmes working with marginalized groups like female sex workers, men who have sex with men, and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV). He is associated with the Vihaan programme of Alliance India since January 2019.

The district administration in Bijapur started a helpline for COVID-19 during the lockdown period. Ashok was requested by the district administration to support them in their call centre. Recently, State Programme Manager of Vihaan programme had an interaction with Ashok regarding his experience of working at the call centre.

Excerpts from the interaction:

Programme Manager (PM): Good evening Ashok! How was the day?

Ashok: Good evening! The day was hectic for me. With the help from CSR programme of a local oil manufacturing unit, we distributed food and nutrition kits for 80 people in 3 taluka today and I came back to the office at 5 pm.

PM: Tell us more about this initiative.

Ashok: We have identified the most needy clients who are deprived of food during this lockdown time and approached people in the oil company. They agreed to provide 80 kits. Each kit has 5 kg of rice, 5 kg atta (wheat flour), 2 kg dal (lentils), sugar, tea powder, bathing soap, shampoo and cooking oil. All kits were loaded to a goods’ vehicle and I went in my bike to show home addresses of the recipients. We finished distributing 80 kits today and 45 more are in the pipeline.

PM: This a commendable work, many congratulations! We heard that you are part of the district call centre for COVID-19 response. Why did the district administration call you to be part of helpline?

Ashok: We observed World AIDS Day last year at the district level in the presence of senior officers and the team under the leadership of Ravi Kittur, who is a Master Counsellor from district hospital and we worked hard to make the event a grand success. The officers noticed our hard work, communication, and leadership skills and we were called to work for the helpline.

PM: What was your reaction when you were called for this service?

Ashok: I received a telephone call from a senior officer inviting me to be part of the helpline team. I happily agreed because each member of society is contributing to this fight in their own way. Doctors, nurses, policemen, and sanitation workers are doing a brilliant job and at least by being part of this helpline team, I will make a small contribution. This was my thought.

PM: Tell us about your initial days of work.

Ashok: Before starting the actual work, the officers gave us initial training. In the training, they taught us calling etiquettes, how to connect people with services and how to do a follow-up, etc. We were given a contact directory of all service providers as well as their senior officers. District Collector said that if the concerned officer does not respond, escalate those cases to higher officers and if they too don’t respond, he can be contacted directly. We understood the process and started our work.

PM: Your work timing in the call centre was from 10 pm to 6 am. How easy or difficult was that for you?

Ashok: For the first 2-3 days, I could not manage well because I was feeling sleepy after 12:30 am. I used to sleep off on the table itself and the sound of the landline used to wake me up. But after a few days, I coped up with the challenge as it had become a routine for me.

PM: Tell us about the most satisfying moment in your work.

Ashok: One night, I got a call from Nishaad (name changed) from a sealed town area in the call centre and he gave details of one symptomatic case in the colony. I immediately alerted the doctor and his team about it. They went in the night itself and could locate the patient, arranged an ambulance, and got him admitted to the district hospital. That patient was tested positive for COVID-19. I was doing follow-up with all concerned teams until the patient’s sample was sent for testing. The next day, I dialled up Nishaad to thank him for the good work he had done. He started calling up our helpline almost every day informing about symptomatic people in the area and 7 members were tested based on his inputs. Two of them were even admitted to the hospital at 3 am! All of them tested COVID-19 positive and by God’s grace, all of them were cured. They were discharged last week. Even today, we exchange pleasantries with each other but I never met Nishaad. Through him, seven persons were identified, treated, and cured successfully and this is one of my most satisfying experience in the call centre.

PM: Very nice to hear that. Did you have any negative experiences?

Ashok: It was a painful experience. One day, I received a call from the relatives of a pregnant woman who was staying at a remote village. The woman was having labour pain. We arranged an ambulance and at 1 am, she was picked from her home. When they reached a private medical college in Bijapur (as Government hospitals are converted into COVID-19 treatment centre), staff in the hospital didn’t respond to the case. I was forced to call a senior administrator of that medical college to persuade the case. After about three hours, they admitted her and she delivered a stillborn child. This experience is haunting me even now.

PM: Sad to know that. And, did you have any amusing experience?

Ashok: During the initial days, a variety of people used to call us asking for passes to move out of the district. When lockdown 2.0 was announced, a drunkard called me at 2 am, he was fully drunk at that time and was worried about liquor shop being closed down from next day onwards. He was abusive and was asking me to open liquor shops the next day. This was a strange experience!

PM: That was a bit funny. How do you take care of yourself doing your work in the call centre?

Ashok: A senior officer from the Education department and I was given charge of the call centre in the night. We used to sanitize our work station and maintain a safe distance. After completing my work, I used to go to our farmhouse, wash all my clothes, and after taking a bath, I used to go home. I have never allowed my family members to touch my clothes and have limited my movements inside the home. After taking a nap till 11 am, I used to go to CSC to attend Vihaan related work.

PM: How has this experience helped you in CSC’s work?

Ashok: I came in to contact with all senior officers working in the health sector and I am using this for community cause now. I got a thorough understanding of various government schemes and also how systems work in the government offices. Now, I am approaching officers and influential leaders one by one to get their support for our PLHIV community members. While I was working for the helpline in the night, I never compromised on Vihaan related work and now that experience is coming handy to me. If provided an opportunity, I shall render my service again for a larger public cause.

PM: We are thankful to you for sharing your valuable experiences and we wish you all the best for everything you do. We feel very fortunate to have a dedicated team member like you in the Vihaan programme.

Vihaan programme of Alliance India enhances treatment adherence and retention in HIV care for People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in India. The programme serves nearly 1.4 million PLHIV through its 319 Care and Support Centres spread across 28 states and 4 union territories in India.

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