Monday Musings: Amid Covid-19 crisis treat sanitation workers as health workers too
Pune’s example of bringing dignity to the lives of waste pickers through the Pune Municipal Corporation-Swach initiative needs to be emulated nationally, along with an effort to bring dignity to all levels of sanitation workersUpdated: Mar 30, 2020 16:47 IST
With the coronavirus in the air, literally, the focus inevitably is on health and healthcare. It has been exactly two months since the first Covid-19 case was reported in the country from Kerala on January 30. Three students from Kerala had returned from Wuhan and tested positive for the Sars-Cov-2 virus. Fortunately for all, they recovered from the infection on February 14, and since then, we have been witness to an extraordinary turn of events.
We still do not know with any certainty what form and shape the Covid-19 pandemic will take in India in the days and weeks to come. A multi-pronged strategy has been put in place by the government to deal with the crisis and needless to say, the situation is being monitored on a day-to-day basis.
The crisis has thrown the spotlight on the enormous deficiencies in the public healthcare system. Hopefully, those deficiencies would stand addressed one way or the other once India recovers from this crisis. Alarmed as we are with the prevailing situation, some valuable lessons in health and hygiene have already been driven home across this nation of a billion-plus people.
We now know, more than ever before, the importance of washing our hands with soap and the high chances of catching a viral infection if we are close to a person with flu. The correct way of coughing and sneezing, using our upper arm to cover the mouth is being reinforced again and again over the media. As also, the importance of using hand sanitisers and the importance of not touching our face frequently as that is how this particular viral infection is transmitted through the nose, eyes and mouth.
On March 22, people across the country heeded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to cheer and thank our health workers and others on the frontline in this great war against the coronavirus. We used our “taalis and thalis” (claps and utensils) to applaud and support their effort.
A very smart thing to do would be to show the same attention and shower much-needed recognition on our sanitation workers, who are also our warriors in the healthcare system.
Pune has already taken a national lead on this front through the public-private-cooperative partnership between the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and the Swach network- India’s first Solid waste collection and handling (Swach) cooperative of waste pickers. This pioneering effort of the eminent social worker Baba Adhav and Poornima Chikarmane, an associate professor at the SNDT Women’s University in Pune, has brought a lot of dignity into the lives of waste pickers. The waste pickers have a uniform, they enforce garbage segregation in Pune’s housing societies strictly; they earn a salary and also avail of numerous welfare schemes introduced by the cooperative.
This not only needs to happen nationally, but along with waste pickers all levels of sanitation workers need to be recognised as health workers: Right from those contract labourers who descend into manholes to clean sewage lines (and often die of asphyxiation), to the sweepers, the janitors of the public toilet system and those who man the garbage trucks and the landfills.
They are also fighting germs and diseases on the frontline through their effort to clean-up our cities. Why should they not be a part of our healthcare system?