ASHA workers seek equipment, training to deal with coronavirus pandemic
States across the country have directed ASHA and Anganwadi or rural child care workers to speak to families in their areas, check for symptoms, and advice them about precautions in dealing with the Covid-19.
At least three associations of Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) have sought the Centre’s intervention in providing mandatory equipment and training to health workers deputed to deal with the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
States across the country have directed ASHA and Anganwadi or rural child care workers to speak to families in their areas, check for symptoms, and advice them about precautions in dealing with the Covid-19. There have been complaints regarding a lack of personal protective gear or training being provided to these health workers.
All India Coordination Committee of ASHA Workers’ Ranjana Nirula said most of them have been asked to purchase hand sanitisers and masks. “Anganwadi and ASHA workers earn around ₹2,000 per month, and most of them have no knowledge of safety standards. This is highly condemnable,” said Nirula.
There are over 9 lakh ASHA workers, who are trained to work as an interface between the community and the public health system, and over 3.5 million Anganwadi workers in India.
Nirula said her organisation, which represents over 5 lakh workers, has written to the Centre. “It is essential that all these workers be provided with protective gears such as masks, gloves, full cover suits, hand sanitisers and soaps when they report for duty. ASHA workers must be given proper training before they are sent to conduct surveys. And, since their wages are so low, the government must compensate them by paying them extra..”
Gorakhpur-based Chanda Yadav, who heads the All India ASHA Workers Union, said in her area a man returned from Dubai without informing the authorities. As news in the area spread that the man had cold, Yadav got in touch with the authorities and now he and his family are under isolation.
She said 25,000-odd ASHA workers her Union represents have been directed to conduct village-wise surveys. Yadav said the only advice she got to keep herself safe was to maintain a distance of 1 metre from the people she checks.
B V Vijayalakshmi, general secretary of the National Federation of ASHA Workers, said her organisation that represents one lakh, wrote to the Centre last week echoing similar demands. “We have asked for basic equipment, medicines and most importantly training.”
India is facing a shortage of personal protective gear for medical workers. Officials of the textiles ministry told HT the Centre needs 8 lakh bodysuits and coveralls, and 60 lakh N95 masks, and faced with the shortage, production of such material has begun domestically.
Rafikul Nishad, a 35-year-old ASHA worker from Uttar Pradesh’s Pratapgarh, said she has no idea how to protect herself. “We were directed to meet families and advice them to keep their surroundings clean and their food habits healthy, and check for symptoms of any family members,” Nishad said over the phone. “I have bought a mask, and I use it when I go to work.’
A Union health ministry official, who did not wish to be named, said the Centre’s priority has been the medical workers engaged in hospitals as they are running against time to ensure that India is fully prepared. “That does not mean we have no policy for care workers. We will announce it soon.”