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Dial 1097 (toll free)
  1. Ranju Rai1,
  2. Amrita Ahluwalia2,
  3. N M Sharma2,
  4. Inderjeet Kaur3,
  5. Bhushan Kumar3
  1. 1Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India
  2. 2State AIDS Control Society, UT Chandigarh
  3. 3Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India
  1. Dr Bhushan Kumar, Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, PGIMER, Chandigarh - 160 012, India kumarbhushan{at}

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Editor,—Even as psychologists the world over ponder over whether computers can be good psychotherapists, computerised AIDS helplines are operating successfully in 35 Indian cities. The strategy behind these helplines is that as AIDS has no cure and prevention is its only remedy, “greater AIDS awareness” is akin to “greater AIDS prevention.”

Chandigarh AIDS hotline is a computerised telecounselling service which is a joint venture of a non-government organisation (NGO) called “Servants of the People Society” and the State AIDS Control Society, Union Territory, Chandigarh. This helpline was started in January 1999 with the motive of “AIDS prevention” through “AIDS awareness.” It is a 24 hour computerised interactive voice response service which is accessible on a 4 digit number (1097) by telephone. Confidentiality and anonymity of the caller are the hallmarks of this service. HIV/AIDS hotline is a toll free service that provides information and counselling on HIV/AIDS related issues in English, Hindi (national language), and Punjabi (regional language). The service consists of two parts—a prerecorded “standard question” option and a “specific inquiry” option. The prerecorded standard coded questions are:

  • Code 1: What is HIV/AIDS?

  • Code 2: How does is spread?

  • Code 3: How is HIV not transmitted?

  • Code 4: Prevention of HIV/AIDS

  • Code 5: Symptoms of HIV/AIDS

  • Code 6: Where is HIV testing done?

  • Code 7: Relation of IV drug use and HIV

  • Code 8: About STDs and HIV

  • Code 9: Other specific queries on HIV/AIDS which get recorded and are replied to within 72 hours

Details of the calls received from January 1999 to December 2000 are as follows:

  • Total no of calls: 293 091

  • Average calls per month:12 212

  • Average calls per day: 401

  • “Language-wise” calls (%):

    • Hindi: 53.1

    • Punjabi: 30.3

    • English: 16.6

  • “Code-wise” calls (%)

    • Code 1: 18

    • Code 2: 27.3

    • Code 3: 5.6

    • Code 4: 4

    • Code 5: 4.8

    • Code 6: 2.2

    • Code 7: 1.6

    • Code 8: 5.4

    • Code 9: 31.1

The most frequent specific queries recorded on code 9 related to

  1. The right way to use a condom

  2. How do condoms prevent HIV/AIDS?

  3. Masturbation

  4. Oral sex

  5. Anal sex

  6. Deep kissing in relation to HIV.

We compared our data with those of the AIDS hotline in the national capital Delhi which is run by an NGO called “Torch.” This hotline has only a “specific query” option and has no provision for a “standard questionnaire.” Since the 4 years of its inception there have been some most frequent “specific queries” on this hotline facility in Delhi which were included in the “standard questionnaire” option of the Chandigarh hotline when it was set up at a later date.

With increasing media exposure, there is an increasing curiosity in the general public in India to know more regarding various health related issues such as HIV/AIDS. The pattern of queries on various helplines keeps changing, in keeping with the changing public awareness. Since the government spends ample funds annually on information, education, and counselling (IEC) activities related to HIV/AIDS, we feel that it would be worthwhile to utilise the most common “specific queries” on these helpline services (which are a direct reflection of the layman's quest for information related to HIV/AIDS) to update IEC strategies. Also, questions asked often on the “specific query” option can be incorporated from time to time in the “standard questionnaire” to make it more informative.