Think you have gonorrhea? Call Rahnumma

Published: March 4, 2012
Email

A sexual health toll-free helpline that lets young people comfortbaly ask questions that are otherwise awkward.

At 23, I have only used condoms as water balloons. So when a friend of mine told me that she had some warts down there and wanted me to go with her to a gynecologist, I felt…quite awkward.

The awkwardness stems from my first and only visit to the gynecologist – which was about six to seven years ago. My mother, who had been pregnant at the time, had miscarried and had to go for a follow up check-ups regularly. She took me with her once and I must say it was rather unpleasant. I could sense that we were being judged the second we stepped inside the sterilized white room. The doctor, I can’t remember her name, was an elderly lady with a black mole on her nose. She kept looking at my mother with accusing eyes and wondered out loud – why people had sex – not once but a couple of times. She also kept asking the weirdest questions which made me feel like we were being tried in court for some heinous crime. After she had interrogated my mother about how her reproductive organs worked, she turned her head towards me and asked me if everything had been alright since I ‘hit puberty’.

It took me a while to understand that she meant to ask if I was on my period and going through some sort of bizarre hormonal change. It was probably one of the strangest things anyone has said to me – obviously my gut reaction was to run out of the room but I sat there with a red face praying to God that my mother would get up in a huff and abuse the woman. However, it didn’t happen. We did leave five minutes later and never went back. My mother found another gynecologist and I never accompanied her on those appointments.

After this awful doctor’s experience, I had decided that if I ever had any sex related issues, disease or infection, I would self medicate myself or let my body rot before going to a gynaecologist. However, as my friend’s lady parts burned with an infection, it became evident that we had to do something. We couldn’t go to her mother,  my mother or an older sibling because it would lead to a whole bunch of super awkward questions.

Out of desperation, we asked another friend who reminded us of the resources available online. For some odd reason, maybe in our worry, we had forgotten to Google her problem. It was then that we came across Rahnumma (0800 444 24), a sexual health toll-free helpline. It was like hitting the jackpot.

In a sexually repressive society like Pakistan, Rahnumma lets young people ask questions about sex and health and how to go about it. The helpline connects the caller to a professional counselor (you get to chose if you want to talk to a female or male counselor) who asks basic details such as – age, location etc. The counselor then proceeds to inform the caller that the call is confidential and then asks them how they can help. While the caller launches into an explanation about how it hurts when they pee, the counselor listens to their problems patiently and then tackles them one by one.

They start with questions like – how important is hygiene to you or since when have you had this problem. The confident and warm tone of the counselor makes the caller trust them. Also, the fact that you don’t have to discuss your problems with person face-to-face makes it easier to unload what is on your chest. If the trained professional feels that the caller needs to go get a proper medical check-up, they say so and if theperson is hesitant, they give them details of how to get in touch with doctors over the phone. At the end of the call, they also tell you to call back and keep them up to date with how things were going.

I won’t go into details about my friend’s call, but let’s just say it was like talking to a friend who knew what was wrong and how to make it better. After the call, we sat wondering how many other people our age faced the same issues and just avoided doing something about it in case someone found out.

So, if you think you have herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis or need to learn about how many times you should bleed in a month or want to learn about contraception – just call 0800 44424.

Tooba Masood

Tooba Masood

A senior sub-editor on the Peshawar Desk at The Express Tribune. She tweets @tabahitooba (twitter.com/tabahitooba)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.