An Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker in a health worker performing his duties under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW). This project was started in 2005 wherein the aim was to localize healthcare and its information. ASHA workers are not doctors but are trained in basic first aid techniques and have knowledge of the healthcare infrastructure in their respective area. ASHA workers play a major role when it comes to ground level healthcare. ASHA workers primarily consist of female residents of the village that have been selected to serve, who are likely to remain in that village for the foreseeable future.
Married, widowed or divorced women are preferred over women who have yet to marry since Indian cultural norms dictate that upon marriage a woman leaves her village and migrates to that of her husband. The only minimum qualification maintained throughout the country for their requirement is a 10th pass certificate and the person should be in the age gap of 25-45. These educational and age-related criterions are relaxed when there are insufficient amount of women applying. ASHAs are approved by the panchayat or the local self-government. They carry out tasks that normal healthcare professionals don’t necessarily have to such as keeping regular check on pregnant women, immunization of children, making sure that medicines reach patients in a locality etc.
When COVID hit the country, along with doctors and healthcare professionals, ASHA workers group was one of the first group of individuals to provide a helping hand in the management of people’s queries and help in easing the people to the whole process of finding appropriate resources to deal with the situation.
However, as of May 2021, ASHA workers claim that they have not been provided sufficient safety equipment or remuneration for the work done by them. When the whole economy is tanking, their only hope is the meager salary they receive for their work. When compared, the lowest salary of a doctor during COVID may range from 25,000 rupees to 40,000 rupees. Nurses and additional staff may receive anywhere from 12,000 to 20,000 as the entry salary. ASHA workers, having an equally important role, receive a mere 5,000 rupees as a relief package, which is also just on paper.
ASHA workers claim in Bengaluru that the constitution of the relief fund has only been done on paper and that they have not been paid in months. Not only are they fighting for themselves but also the other frontline workers who are not receiving enough credit and remuneration for their work. The All-India Committee of Scheme Workers’ Federation of India (SWFI) said that ASHA workers have not been provided with essential PPE kits to safeguard their own lives and many have become infected, with some even succumbing to the virus.
All they demand is a 25,000 rupees compensation for their work alongside proper safety equipment such as PPE kits, Masks and Hand sanitizers. They also demand a 50 lakh rupee insurance policy for each worker due to the large amounts of ASHA workers that succumbed during the first wave and the on-going second wave of COVID.
These needs are absolutely justifiable and necessary to instill confidence in their work. If such workers do not show up, the whole health care system will be burdened even more than it already is.
A few months ago, there was a strike by the doctors and nurses for a lack of payment by the government. Their salaries were slashed due to the situation of COVID. Some states decided to revert back to older salary schemes while some chose to ignore their wants. A country that has the amount of funds to make a 3,000 crore rupee statue, a 20,000 crore rupee parliament (The Central Vista Project) and a COVID relied fund that does not come under the ambit of RTI cannot afford to pay its frontline workers. Seems like the priorities of the governments are pretty solid, pandemic or not.
At the end of the day, ASHA workers do not work for recognition. Some work for remuneration while most work for the welfare of the people. They risk their lives as much as other frontline workers that are considered with more respect. We need to stand with them in their time of need. We ought to learn to respect and pay homage to such workers who go through the hard times with a smile. If the general public stands with their needs, the governments are more or less forced to make at least some changes for their betterment.
Image Source: Outlook India
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