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Unsung Angels of Health for India’s Rural Communities

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Asha workers on field in Bihar

Inclusive India

Patna, June 23— As the Coronavirus spreads to rural India and the tally of confirmed cases crosses four lakh mark, the ASHA workers risk their lives every day to serve their community and most importantly bring hope to millions of not so privileged households across rural and semi-urban India.

“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love,” Mother Teresa had once said. Around one million Asha workers are executing it in practical.

Asha, in Hindi, means hope and for millions of rural and semi-rural Indians, particularly women and children, these women in pink are harbingers of hope and healing. They are the backbone of India’s rickety rural health system.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyTd4ZKt7Sk&feature=youtu.be

This documentary by Pluc TV/South Asia Monitor with support of Frank Islam Foundation captures a first-hand account of the issues and challenges the Asha workers face during the ongoing pandemic.

ASHA actually stands for Accredited Social Health Activists and these selfless workers wearing simple cotton sarees or salwar-kameez, are women trained in basic health care paid a pittance, but who create awareness in health, sanitation and its social determinants in India’s myriad villages across this vast land where 70 percent people live in rural areas.

Ashas work under the NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) scheme of the Indian government. Asha workers are beacons of hope among far flung and deprived populations populations lacking in modern primary health care.

Role of Asha Workers:

  • Motivating women to give birth in hospitals
  • Bringing children to immunization clinics
  • Encouraging family planning
  • Treating basic illness and injury with first aid
  • Keeping demographic records
  • Improving village sanitation
  • Serve as a key communication mechanism between the healthcare system and rural populations

These women work from 8 AM to 6 PM traversing across villages

Seema Kumari, an Asha worker in Saharsa district of Bihar, says: “When we go out to work, we face a lot of difficulty. When we go to do surveys, people ask as to why are you here? Don’t come here, no one is ill in our house. Then we explain that this is a Coronavirus survey and we are here to educate you on how you can protect yourself from it.”

In this pandemic, there are almost a million Asha workers across India working hard to protect their community.

Asha workers however get paid a paltry Rs 6,000- Rs 10,000 a month for all the work they do but it’s the passion to work for their community that drives them everyday.

Pramila Kumari, who is also an Asha worker in Manigachi area of Bihar, says: “When I get to work, I just forget all the challenges. I focus on work and that makes me feel good. We are serving our country to get rid of the Coronavirus. While it is all in God’s hands, we work hard each day. We request people to maintain social distancing so that India can get rid of this virus.”

Vivekanand Jha, Executive Director, The George Institute, is of the view that the critical role of Asha workers in primary healthcare services has not yet been recognised.

“Asha workers are critical to the delivery of primary healthcare services in India, not only during the current pandemic but all times. Sadly this has not been recognised in the public domain and has become a matter of conversation only during the pandemic. If we have to stop the pandemic, we need to go to the communities, win their trust and do all that we can to stop the spread of the virus in communities,” says Jha.

From being first responders to daily advisors for their communities, Asha workers are the backbone of India’s rural healthcare infrastructure and symbols of hope for India’s rural communities.

“We are working day and night whether rain or sun. we do face a lot of problems but we have decided we will educate and create awareness in our community and see them safe. During this crisis my request is to help people. Don’t let people go hungry, hear their cries,” says Seema Kumari. Former US President Barack Obama had once said: “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope. You will fill yourself with hope.”