ASHA WORKERS – The forefront fighters we seldom name

Updated: May 29, 2021

An Accredited social health activist (ASHA) is a community health worker instituted by the government of India’s Ministry of health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) as a part of National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). With the aim of improving the health outcomes and creating awareness particularly in Rural India the mission started in 2005 and right now there are more than 9,00,000 ASHA workers providing their services in different parts of the country.

(Image Source – The New Indian Express)

Roles and Responsibilities

ASHAs act as a bridge between the government and people, they are local women trained to educate and promote health facilities in their communities and regions. From encouraging family planning, treating basic illness, counselling women on birth preparedness, educating them about safe delivery, breastfeeding and complementary feeding to immunization and village sanitation they perform a set of mix tasks as per their training and skills.

They also act as a depot holder for essential provisions being made available to all habitations like Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORS), Iron Folic Acid Tablet(IFA), chloroquine, Disposable Delivery Kits(DDK),OralPills&Condoms,etc.

Role During The COVID – 19

After the lockdown, ASHA workers are working day in and day out by risking their lives, with the help of additional training provided to them over phone and in person by ASHA Sanginis (the health supervisor immediately above them). They have been conducting door-to-door surveys, collecting data on people’s medical history, creating awareness and educating people about the importance of sanitization, masks and social distancing.

However, despite their difficult job requirement and stressful work ASHA workers are fighting many other challenges. These include violent acts, abuse, harassment and low or no wages in certain areas. Due to which several health workers felt discriminated against since most of them come from poor backgrounds and cannot afford risking their lives, therefore they demanded higher salaries and smartphones to carry out their jobs.

What can be done

This pandemic is a timely reminder that our healthcare system requires stringent structure especially for the last mile. We lack resources and therefore we should respect all those who have been working by risking their lives and ASHA workers are one of them, who are working with very little resources on the frontline.

On 28 April, the World Health Organisation called upon all governments, employers, and worker organisations and the global community to take urgent measures to protect occupational health and safety of health workers and emergency responders respect their rights to decent working conditions, and develop national programmes for occupational health of health workers and to provide them with occupational health services.

In addition, some of the measures which can be taken by the government to protect the rights of ASHA workers.

  • Providing them proper PPE kits, masks and gloves

  • Fill vacancies of ASHA workers pending in various states in the country

  • Timely and decent wages for the work related to Covid-19 and also statutory minimum wages

  • Regularise the services of ASHA workers and bring them under the official definition of ‘worker’ under relevant labour laws.

  • Provide other social security benefits such as inclusion in Employees’ State Insurance and Employee Provident Fund amongst others.

  • Provide adequate and proper treatment and compensation for loss of work in the event of contracting COVID-19 as part of ASHA workers’ interface with the community.

(Image Source – The Thumb Print)

The ASHA workers have been providing their services for so long and still working as silent warriors , these women warriors not just need gratitude or some floral salute but they also need humane treatment with adequate institutional support for performing their duty. We need not forget that the ASHA initiative was also started to involve the women in enhancing their livelihood. For many families, they earn and keep their pot burning.