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India announces mental-health digital platform

The Principal Scientific Adviser to the government, K Vijay Raghavan, virtually launched the Mental Health and Normalcy Augmentation System (MANAS) mobile app to promote health and wellbeing in the country. MANAS was endorsed as a national programme by the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC).

MANAS is a comprehensive, scalable, and national digital wellbeing platform designed to augment the mental well-being of Indian citizens. The app integrates the health and wellness efforts of various government ministries. Also, scientifically validated indigenous tools with gamified interfaces were developed and researched by several national bodies and research institutions.

The pandemic has forced people to spend more time on their screens and with little feedback available, there are issues of health being raised, Raghavan said. As per a news report, though the app is still to undergo field trials and is not available for public use as yet, it will be a platform catering to the overall wellness of people of all age groups and genders. The application can be used for a person’s overall wellbeing and is supported with teleconsultation, especially for mental health-related problems. There will be health tracking and data records will be maintained, which will help users during future consultations. Such interventions can help policy developers understand the health of the user.

According to the scientist that conceptualised and led the execution of the mission, MANAS intends to build a healthier, happier, and more self-reliant community. MANAS is based on augmenting life skills and core psychological processes and is universally accessible. It delivers age-appropriate methods and promotes positive attitudes that focus on wellness. Catering to the overall wellbeing of people of all age groups, the initial version of MANAS targets promoting positive mental health in citizens aged 15-35 years.

MANAS was initiated by the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the government. It is a mission-mode initiative and a joint venture by Pune-based Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru. The application has been developed by the Bengaluru centre of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC).

Raghavan outlined the future directions for the app’s development, noting MANAS must be integrated with public health schemes like the National Health Mission, Poshan Abhiyan, and e-Sanjeevani. It also must be made multilingual. Shortly, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), which supports the Aarogya Setu and CoWin portals, will extend support to the MANAS app.

Last year, the government launched Aarogya Setu, which enables people to assess their health and the risk of catching COVID-19. It is able to calculate this based on their interaction with others, using cutting-edge Bluetooth technology, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.

After installing the Aarogya Setu app, the user is asked to answer several questions. In case some of the answers suggest COVID-19 symptoms, the information is sent to a government server. The data will then help the government take effective steps and initiate the isolation procedure if necessary. It also alerts the user if they come in close proximity with a person who has tested positive. The app is available on both Android and iOS. It is available in 11 languages-ten Indian languages and English.

The government also launched an Interactive Voice Response System for citizens that use only feature phones and landlines. The service is available across the country and toll-free. Citizens are asked to give a missed call to the number, and they will get a call back requesting inputs regarding their health.

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