They say, nothing spells joy like the word ‘free’; and the sheer number of prank calls, missed calls and disconnected calls recorded at the Health Help Center (HHC) toll-free helpline is generous proof of it.
A record 436,728 calls inclusive of missed calls, nuisance and abused calls, silence and disconnected calls plagued the health helpline number112 which is a toll-free service number. This was reported by the PM Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley in his state of the nation address.
The Health Help Center (HHC), since its establishment on 2 May 2011 and as of 18 June 2012, received 30,187 valid calls besides the bluff-calls with 1,824 service calls and 11,390 emergency calls.
The PM appealed to the people in his statement not to abuse such facility.
On May 2012, a Paramedic of the Health Helpline Center (HHC) Karma Dorji, received a call around 11.30pm, the caller who posed as a Taxi driver informed the operator about four casualties in a vehicle accident in Khasadrapchu.
The caller requested for emergency ambulance services.
The ambulance unaware of the wild-goose chase rushed to the location in all urgency. The team discovered they’d been had, and the whole thing was a hoax.
There was nobody at the said location.
When Karma Dorji called back the said Taxi driver, calls were received with dead silence and eventually suppressed giggles.
And one time, a woman who spoke in Khengkha (language of people from Kheng) called him repeatedly to confess her ‘feelings’ to him in colorful movie dialects.
“She used to call and chant, I love you,” said Karma Dorji.
He said other highly annoying calls include those about lost dogs or cats, or that dogs and cats are dying and an ambulance was an immediate requirement.
The network operator said sometimes parents who wanted to cajole their crying babies dial the HHC. The worst instances are those when drunken people call for no apparent reasons.
And those who called for a reason are drunken youths who spilled-out their broken hearts and ‘tragic’ love escapades.
Many calls were also received where children playing with phones accidentally dialed the helpline.
Such calls are aplenty at the HHC and this irritates the paramedics to near-insanity at the most ungodly hours of the night or early mornings.
“Sometimes we get angry and question the caller, whether the ambulance was for animal or people, sometimes the callers even retaliate. At times, we had to shout at the children so they stop crying, we question parents whether the phone was brought for their babies,” said Karma Dorji.
Nonetheless there are other genuine callers really in need of the emergency service.
“When useless calls clog network, urgent situations are put-on-hold unnecessarily,” said Karma Dorji.
The HHC has 16 paramedics but only four paramedics work shifts, and during the shift, the paramedics attend to about 1000 calls in 24 hours, from 20 dzongkhags and 205 gewogs.
The CEO of the HHC Karma Sangay said, amongst the 436,728 calls, there were some repeat-offenders, the HHC plans to penalize two of the callers but have kept matters on hold.
He said there are certain situations which the HHC can litigate, but, there were no legal basis for it, but if the repeat-offenders carried on, then the center will trace the culprits and hand them over to the law.
The miscreants can be traced through the center’s voice-recording system and through the storage system where all the details are stored.
“Such evidences will be produced in the court of law,” said the CEO.
On the flipside, the HHC first wants to take positive strides to create awareness on such practices. The center plans to air some radio jingles for about half a minute, this will be aired in all the radios.