Several health workers claimed they had not been getting sanitisers, gloves or head gears.(HT Photo)
Several health workers claimed they had not been getting sanitisers, gloves or head gears.(HT Photo)

ASHAs in Haryana fighting battle against coronavirus without armour

Two workers have already contracted the virus; health minister Anil Vij says he would ensure all health workers get required gears
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | By Rajesh Moudgil, Chandigarh
UPDATED ON MAY 08, 2020 01:09 AM IST

They are among the frontline corona warriors, yet numerous representations by Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in Haryana for the very basic safety equipment such as masks, gloves, head-gears and sanitisers seem to have fallen on deaf ears of health authorities to this day.

Result: Two such workers have already contracted the coronavirus and many more are at risk due to the nature of their duties involving exposure to a large number of people, including potential virus carriers.

There are about 19,000 ASHAs in the state, most of whom are engaged in tasks such as conducting health surveys of every household in the areas assigned to them, besides routine vaccinations and health-related works in all 22 districts of Haryana.

“All these health activists have been working hard since mid-March and repeatedly asking, verbally and in written representations, that they need the basic safety gears like masks, gloves and sanitizers, besides a smartphone as they have now been asked to update all activities online. They come from humble backgrounds and cannot afford high-end cell phones. We have again written to the health authorities, after another ASHA tested positive in Ambala after the first such case in Jind,” said Surekha, general secretary of the ASHA workers’ association.

In Ambala, these workers were assigned duties in different areas to check foreign-returnees and ensure that they were quarantined. In the second round, they were allotted duties to check residents with flu-like symptoms and refer their case to seniors; samples were taken accordingly. An ASHA tested positive on May 4 and was initially shifted to a designated hospital in Mullana and later to the civil hospital, which did not have adequate facilities. “Around 10% of us have received masks, but the remaining ones have to buy on their own. If the frontline health workers are at risk, how could they help in this war against pandemic?” asked a leader of these workers.

In Jind, four Anganwadi workers, who had conducted door-to-door surveys without wearing proper safety gears, had tested positive for Covid-19 earlier last month. A senior official of the Jind child development project wing, who did not want to be named, agreed that not all health workers were provided with the safety gears.

In Hisar and Sirsa too, the situation is not different, despite the fact that health workers have to enter the containment and buffer zones and interact with people there.

Though masks are not a big issue as we can use our scarves or dupattas as alternative, most of us have neither been getting sanitisers, nor gloves or head gears regularly, several health workers claimed.

Same concern has come to the fore from Karnal as well, where ASHAs have been assigned to prepare reports of people coming from other states. They need proper protection as they meet unknown people every day and yet, complaints of inadequate and erratic supply of protective gears are in abundance.

‘WILL ENSURE GAP ARE PLUGGED QUICKLY’

When contacted, Haryana health minister Anil Vij, who lauded the contribution of these accredited health activists in fighting the pandemic, said there were clear instructions that all of them would get personal safety gears as per their duty requirements.

“Yet, I will ensure that the gaps, if any, in the availability of said safety gears, are immediately plugged,” he added.

(With inputs from Neeraj Mohan, Sunil Rahar, Bhaskar Mukherjee and Bhavey Nagpal)

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