“We are just a call away. Please dial 16600119756 or 9801119756 for any sexual and reproductive health queries”- Meri Saathi counselor.
Meri Saathi is a telephone “helpline” based in Kathmandu, Nepal that offers information, counseling and referrals on sexual and reproductive health issues. It is an effort to enable young people including women and men to enjoy lives of dignity and freedom from fear, infection and sexual and reproductive health problems by providing them with choices about health services, contraception and their sexual behavior. The program reaches people of all classes, communities, ages and sexual preferences, over 70% of whom are between the ages of 15 and 25.
Meri Saathi is an initiation of Sunaulo Parivar Nepal/Marie Stopes Nepal and it believes on informed reproductive choices. It is known fact that there is a huge gap in information related to sexual and reproductive health especially among the adolescents, young people, newlyweds and married couples. Also, many young people in Nepal are reluctant to attend health service centres for sexual and reproductive health services, such as family planning services, pregnancy test, STI test etc. The Meri Saathi Helpline initiated by Marie Stopes International Nepal aims to fill gap by providing easy access and availability of reliable information on sexual and reproductive health issues like puberty, masturbation, menstruation, pregnancy, contraception, abortion and STDs.
“Every call is an opportunity to enhance client relations, your image and the image of the service centre or organization”- Shreejana Bajracharya, Sr. Communications Consultant in Marie Stopes Nepal.
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, MSI 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.
Additionally, we are concerned that the program be affordable, accessible, confidential, simple and user friendly. Meri Saathi Helpline offers information, counseling and referral to its Marie Stopes Centres and appropriate health facilities for sexual and reproductive health needs of the callers.
The purpose of the project is the provision of a secure and confidential gateway for young people to access information regarding problems associated with adolescence particularly regarding reproductive health issues and to provide counseling and guidance to those who seek help.
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.com which is aired through 80 local FM stations across the country. Due to high number of callers, the number of staff at the helpline was increased from two to four and four to ten in 2016. In 2016, the Meri Saathi Helpline received a total of 60,000 calls (5000 callers/month). The service is particularly popular among young people. 70% 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 girlfriends 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.
The success of the helpline lies in its guaranteeing confidentiality and anonymity, and providing a nonjudgmental and “safe” space to its callers. Information is provided in a simple manner, to facilitate comprehension and applicability. All callers are treated with respect and encouraged to find their own solutions to their problems. The number of callers who call back and new callers who say they have been referred to Meri Saathi by their friends indicated that Meri Saathi has been able to provide a service that young people find useful. Meri Saathi Free Helpline is a rich source of information and are providing a much-needed service in our community.