By Akhlad Khan
“We are risking our lives for the greater cause without masks and money, but the Jammu and Kashmir government has turned a blind eye towards us and they treat us like we are some other planet creatures”.
This is what the Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers in Kashmir said about their precarious situation they were caught as many of them tested positive for the CoronaVirus. In Bandipora district alone, around 40 workers were infected with the novel virus.
Speaking with Muslim Mirror, Durdana (name changed), who works in Bandipora, says that around 40 of her colleagues have contracted the infection and have been admitted in government hospitals.
Narrating their woes, they alleged “We are risking our lives for the greater cause without masks and money, but the government has turned a blind eye towards us. They (government) should provide us with safety gear”.
She also alleged that they are not getting proper treatment.
“They treat us like we are like some other creature, and we have not been given appropriate treatment. We often feel like untouchables ‘Saheb Log Aate Hain Aur Chale Jaate Hain, Hum Injection Bhi Apne Paise Se Laye”, she added.
It is to be noted that ASHA workers across the state have played a huge role in strengthening primary health care by making it accessible for disadvantaged and disempowered families, and implementing government schemes on the ground. Now they feel that their work and efforts have been long overlooked.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in India, ASHA workers have had to take on more responsibility. According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s Model Micro Plan for Containing Local Transmission of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), ASHA workers have been assigned to monitor the situation locally in order to control the spread of the infection.
With little to no remittance, which is not enough even to feed their families, these women are employed to conduct daily visits to houses, report symptomatic cases, identify contacts of confirmed and suspected cases, monitor contacts daily, create awareness among the community and counsel families regarding disease prevention and the like.
ASHA workers are in daily and direct contact with the community; they are responsible for collecting information on all health indicators and helping the community to access treatment. They are the first to come in contact with suspected COVID-19 patients and help them in getting screened and accessing treatment; they are also maintaining records of those patients and their contacts. Besides they are not having any personal protection equipment (PPE) while dealing with these patients.
In the second wave, many ASHA workers and frontline workers are succumbing to Covid-19 daily. However, unfortunately, ASHA workers, who are the backbone of the health system in rural areas working on meagre incentives, have even been left out in a recent incentive scheme announced by the J&K government for COVID-19 warriors.
It is most unfortunate that most of their families are denied the much-acclaimed compensation of Rs 50 lakhs. These poor employees are not being paid minimum wages nor are there any social security benefits. In the name of ‘honorarium’ or ‘incentive’, they are paid a pittance. The situation is so bad that even their regular monthly remuneration is pending for many months. The successive governments have totally neglected them.
ASHA workers said that since they were involved in collecting coronavirus-related data and following up with patients, they had to undertake difficult journeys for work. “In some places, we had a lot of difficulty reaching households, especially in containment zones,” an ASHA worker Aliya told a local news paper.
She said that the government’s decision benefits corona warriors like doctors, medical officers, paramedical, nursing staff, drivers and class IV employees only.
“Why were we ignored by the government as we were also at the frontline for the past two years during the pandemic,” Aliya said. “We are working on minimum wages. We appeal to the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to increase our monthly wages and also mention us in special financial incentives.”
With delayed salaries and a lack of protective gear, the ASHA workers have been demanding their dues in the form of a minimum wages of Rs 21,000, PPE kits, regularisation of their services, free COVID-19 tests, Rs 5 lakh compensation to those infected on duty and medical insurance for their family members.