Asha worker Matilda Kullu who battled casteism, ridicule to save lives and made it to Forbes India list

Published on Nov 28, 2021 12:03 AM IST

As one of the 47,000-odd ASHA workers in Odisha, Matilda Kullu’s hands have always been full with her daily workload comprising doorstep visits for immunization of newborns as well as adolescent girls, antenatal check-up, post-natal check-up, counselling of women on birth preparedness, breastfeeding and complementary feeding, and prevention of common infections, including reproductive tract and sexually transmitted infections

Matilda Kullu was appointed as an ASHA worker for Odisha’s Gargadbahal village 15 years ago.
Matilda Kullu was appointed as an ASHA worker for Odisha’s Gargadbahal village 15 years ago.
ByDebabrata Mohanty

Bhubaneswar: Had it not been for the efforts of Matilda Kullu, the 45-year-old tribal ASHA worker Odisha’s Sundargarh district featured in the Forbes India W-Power 2021 list along with banker Arundhati Bhattacharya and actress Rasika Duggal, people in her village would be resorting to black magic to cure ailments rather than visit a hospital.

Matilda, who was appointed as an Accredited Social Health Activist for Gargadbahal village in Baragaon tehsil of Odisha’s Sundargarh district 15 years ago, did not have it easy when she started work.

“People did not think of going to hospital when they fell sick. When I used to advise people to go to hospital, they used to ridicule me. I also had to bear the brunt of casteism,” she said. “It took years of work before I could make people understand the need to visit doctors instead of rushing to the local witchdoctor.”

As one of the 47,000-odd ASHA workers in Odisha, Matilda’s hands have always been full with her daily workload comprising doorstep visits for immunization of newborns as well as adolescent girls, antenatal check-up, post-natal check-up, counselling of women on birth preparedness, breastfeeding and complementary feeding, and prevention of common infections, including reproductive tract and sexually transmitted infections.

Her day begins at five in the morning, as she rushes to finish household chores, prepare lunch for her family of four, and feed the cattle before she hops on her cycle for doorstep visits. When the pandemic began last year, Matilda’s schedule became more hectic, as she started visiting 50-60 households everyday to check on people suspected of having Covid-19 symptoms.

“Everyday I would get out of home and visit families looking for Covid suspects and then inform the local primary health centre,” said Matilda. “People were scared of being taken for tests as there was lot of stigma attached to a Covid patient last year.”

Although the job entailed meeting potentially infected people in their homes, a majority of ASHAs were not provided with masks, gloves and sanitisers. After the first wave ebbed and vaccination started, Matilda said she had a tough time convincing villagers to get inoculated.

“As I have was working with people in my village for a long time, they listened to me and got vaccinated,” said Matilda, who rues that despite all the hard work she puts in, her earning is a measly 4,500.

“During the pandemic, the state government had given a one-time incentive of 2,000,” she said. “But now that has been withdrawn, and we get just 4,500.”

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