The unsung covid warriors: ASHA workers

Pandemic Jun 09, 2021

While India battles Covid-19, ASHA workers have ensured that citizens in rural areas remain aware and safe. But their status as frontline workers remains confined to papers, as they go underpaid, overworked, unrecognized, and underappreciated.

Who are ASHA Workers?

In 2005, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare instituted Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) as community health workers under the National Rural Health Mission.

ASHAs are meant to facilitate communication between rural populations and the healthcare system. They get performance-based incentives for carrying out duties such as motivating women to give birth in hospitals, ensuring immunization of children, encouraging family planning, keeping demographic records, and improving village sanitation.

ASHAs Fate Amidst Covid-19

As the face of the rural healthcare system, ASHA workers have to create awareness around the coronavirus, monitor villagers, trace patients, bring vaccines from sub-centres and ensure people get the jab.

In Punjab, ASHAs are forced to sustain themselves on incentives that the Health Department is yet to pay. They explained how they had to take loans to buy smartphones to complete Covid-19 surveys. Many haven’t received the Rs 10,000 compensation announced for workers who test positive. State-level ASHA union leader- Paramjit Kaur noted that most workers come from poor families and experience systemic exploitation. There are instances of workers being put on duty after testing positive.

In remote areas of Uttar Pradesh, ASHA workers make a meagre amount of Rs 2,250 per month. They face pay cuts for taking more than 10 days off.

In pockets of rural Pune, ASHAs walk around eight kilometres in hilly regions to fulfil their duties. They have been demanding the administration to provide them with two-wheelers to tackle this.

The state government of Karnataka hasn’t paid workers their honorarium in three months and though 16 lives were lost, only one family was paid a compensation of Rs 50 lakh.

On May 24, ASHA workers across the nation protested against the government for not providing them with PPE kits and paying them minimum remuneration. They demanded the government release Rs 5,000 as relief for all frontline warriors across the country, provide a minimum of Rs 25,000 as medical compensation, ensure adequate supply of masks, hand sanitisers, gloves and other safety equipment, and release Rs 50 lakh insurance compensation for workers who lost their lives during the first wave.

NHRC Gets Involved

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) observed allegations of “poor working conditions” and issued notices to the Secretary, Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the Chief Secretaries of the states to submit reports on the raised issues within six weeks.

The reports must contain details about the number of workers, dues paid to them during the pandemic, arrears, health protection measures, healthcare facilities provided, compensation in the event of fatality, long term health insurance, and social security facilities.

ASHA workers have also demanded that the government define their roles and responsibilities.

And as Pune Zilla Parishad member Rani Shelke rightly said, their every demand is justified as they risk not only their lives but also their families to serve the country in trying times like these.

This article has been written by Pravallika Manju for The Paradigm

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