Ceena Naeem

“The moment I tested positive for Covid19, the only thing which occupied my mind all the time was death, because I had been listening about the number of deaths being caused by the deadly virus all over the world, says Muhammad Farooq, a resident of Peshawar.
“I was very much terrified,” Farooq explains and says it was because every single individual was discussing the mortality rate of the disease. Luckily, he talked to a medical expert on a telephone helpline established by the government for the purpose to create awareness among the public about the pandemic.
“I got relaxed after taking free advice from the doctor. He advised me to keep myself busy and stop thinking about the disease,” he adds.
Farooq, who drives a cab in the provincial metropolis, hails the government for establishing the helpline. He also appreciates the financial help extended by the government to his family during his days of illness.

Corona virus continues to spread across the world, with more than one million deaths. Apart from its high number of mortalities, the pandemic has put devastating effects on mental health of the masses and caused depression and anxiety in people of different age groups.
Social distancing, one of the few precautionary measures suggested worldwide by health experts to stop the spread of the virus, has made people feel isolated; thus causing a spike in stress and anxiety. However, counseling has proved to have better impact on Covid19 positive patients.
The toll-free helpline established by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, right at the start of the lockdown, has proved to be a worthy step. In every district of the province, health experts were assigned to provide information to public on corona and other medical issues.
According to officials, health experts at the desk provided free medical advices about corona and other psychological issues to more than 0.3 million people. Officials say that majority of the people called on the helpline were passing through mental stress and anxiety.
The helpline, officials say, was first established after the terrorists’ attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014 to provide counseling to the traumatized students and parents, whose children were either killed or injured in that barbaric incident. The service, is however, extended to the entire province and is being used to provide useful information to the public about the coronavirus disease, its effects on human beings and the precautionary measures to stop the possible spread of the virus.
According to Dr. Ikarmullah, director of the public health department, public can call on the toll-free number “1700” and get every kind of information about the pandemic. “We have a wide range of consultants and experts at the helpline. People usually call us about the medical services being provided to corona positive patients in the hospital and the procedure for admitting patients in hospitals. They also require consultation on mental health issues,” Dr. Ikramullah informs.

So far, the doctor adds, hundreds of people have availed the facility and our consultants and experts provided them the required information and guidance about the disease. Besides, we treated as many as 500 Covid19 positive patients who were also passing through anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, he reveals.
Dr. Neelam, an official of the health department, says people still call on the helpline number, which is the testimony of the fact that public trust and rely upon the service.
“Usually, there are two types of people. Some are horrified by the fear of getting infected by the virus while others are depressed due to financial problems as they have either lost jobs or facing economic constraints. Both the problems cause anxiety and depression, Dr. Neelam explains.
To assist the government in helping out public during the pandemic, some non-government organizations also played a vital role. “Da Hawa Loor”, a private sector social organization, has also established a free telephone helpline through which, psychiatrists and psychologists provided counseling to corona patients and treated them accordingly. However, the main focus of the organization is to extend help to female and members of the transgender community, a comparatively more marginalized segment of our society.
Dr. Farhat says that her organization provided counseling and treatment to more than 50 patients through the telephone helpline, adding, majority of them were female and members of the transgender community.

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