Yusuf Meherally Centre provides free professional health tele-consultation services for Mumbai police handling the COVID-19 crisis

Published : July 22, 2020 15:59 IST

Mumbai Police and Central Industrial Security Force personnel urging people not to come out of their houses in Kumbharwada slums, Dharavi, in Mumbai on May 29. Photo: Vijay Bate

Over the last four months, the Mumbai Police have led from the front the fight against the pandemic. The toll is beginning to tell on the 46,000-strong force. As of July 18, there are a total of 3,342 instances of COVID-19 in Mumbai Police. Of this, 50 have succumbed to the disease, 555 are still active cases and 2,737 have recovered. Their regular policing duties include 12- to 18-hour shifts, meals at irregular times and constant exposure to places where the virus is rampant. “Such conditions often affect their physical and mental health. At the same time, the call of duty often prevents them from taking time out and seeking the much-needed medical help for small ailments, and professional help for their emotional issues,” says Haresh Shah of the Yusuf Meherally Centre that has started Tan Man Seva, a tele health helpline that offers physical and emotional help for non-emergency problems.

Haresh Shah says: “This service will enable police personnel to access MBBS doctors and/or mental health professionals from their mobile phones without going anywhere and without paying anything. This easy access to physical and emotional health guidance and support can be of immense help in keeping our Mumbai Police force healthy and happy.”

The service started in the first week of July and has so far handled over 300 calls seeking guidance over physical health issues and about 200 over mental well-being issues. It is available to the Mumbai Police and the State Reserve Police Force, which together have about 75,000 personnel. On the day the service commenced, an SMS was sent to all the phone numbers provided by the police force. So far about 20,000 personnel have registered with the service and and Haresh Shah says that more are being added every day. It is heart-warming that the phone numbers of constables and junior staff are being sent in first for registration with the service.

“The initial response was very good,” says Haresh Shah. “But then we noticed the calls began to trickle off later. We realised that the police administration had been slow in sending us phone numbers. So now we’re going to do a roadshow and go to the main police stations and tell them of the service.”

Callers can choose to tele-consult with a doctor for physical or mental health issues. Haresh Shah explains the process: “The control centre will ensure that such requests are passed on to appropriate professionals and that they call back through Cloud Telephony System. We have a proper tracking of call logs, request fulfilment and call recordings in case of complaints. For mental health issues, the call-back happens within a few minutes and for physical health issues the call-back is generally within 15 to 20 minutes. There are SMS/WhatsApp prescriptions if required as per telemedicine guidelines.”

Haresh Shah says the health records of all those who call for physical health issues will be maintained. Shah says: “There is a pool of doctors and there is a very high probability that a different doctor may attend to the same person subsequently, but there will be a continuity of treatment because we will have the health records.” But he cautions: “This facility is capable of handling only non-emergency primary care and basic emotional health issues.” The organisation has started “negotiating with labs to give special packages and coupons for medicine to make the service more comprehensive”.

The initiative is costing the Yusuf Meherally Centre about Rs.9 lakh a month. The Centre has managed to find a source for partial funding of the service so far. Judging by the number of calls and support from people like Julio Ribeiro, former Commissioner, Mumbai Police, the initiative has been well received. Ribeiro endorsed it saying: “I commend the Yusuf Meherally Centre and Haresh Shah for this initiate. If people show their concern for policemen’s problems, it will encourage them to give better service to people.”

Depending on the need, the service may continue post-COVID too. The Yusuf Meherally Centre is a 60-year-old voluntary organisation that has been at the forefront of relief and rehabilitation activities during national calamities. The Tan Man Seva is supported by MyCare Health Solutions Pvt. Ltd. and i.Call, a Tata Institute of Social Sciences initiative which is funded by Mariwala Health initiative.