The Tigray Region toll-free call center 6244 was relaunched in Mekelle on April 29, 2021 in an event officiated by the Head of Tigray Regional Health Bureau and in the presence of health partners, representatives of Ethio Telecom in Tigray, newly deployed staff of the call center, representatives of regional media and World Health Organization (WHO) staff.
Before discontinuing operations in November 2020, the call center had been receiving an average of 20,000 calls per week from individuals seeking COVID-19 related information. The reactivated call center will have an expanded scope and will provide health information on a wide range of health issues ranging from COVID-19 to diseases such as malaria, measles, cholera and meningitis. The same hotline will also provide confidential counseling and referral service to victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). In addition to these services, the toll-free call center will play a role in strengthening event-based surveillance through alerts received from callers.
At the launching ceremony, Head of the Tigray Regional Health Bureau Dr. Fasika Amdesilassie said, “The reactivation of the toll-free call center is an important step in reaching the people of Tigray with accurate and timely information on health threats like COVID-19 and possible disease outbreaks.” He added, “The Health Bureau will support the smooth operation of this call center to ensure it supports the people of Tigray to the best of its capacity.”
Call center staff will keep a database of caller demographics and types of questions and comments without retaining any personal identifiers. Calls to the toll-free number 6244 will be received on eight extension lines, making it possible for eight call center staff to answer calls at the same time. The call center is open 8:00am to 5:00pm Monday through Saturday.
To reactivate the toll-free call center, WHO and the regional health bureau trained 30 health workers. The training included an overview on the current public health emergency in Tigray, focusing on symptoms, transmission and prevention of measles, cholera, malaria and meningitis as well as COVID-19 prevention, including information on when, where and how to seek medical attention for these diseases, and why and where to get COVID-19 vaccines. The training also offered core behavior change communication, risk communication and tele-counseling skills, including specific steps of counseling and referral for victims of SGBV.
The call center operated by the Regional Health Bureau is hosted at the Ethio Telecom office in Mekelle. Ethio Telecom provided the necessary telephonic equipment free of charge.
Communication materials and public service announcements have been developed with WHO support to reintroduce the service to the public and encourage uptake. WHO will continue to help promote and support monitoring and operation of the toll-free center.