Why society owes Asha workers a debt -Dipa Sinha
Expanding better opportunities with decent wages for frontline workers could also contribute to the revival of the rural economy by putting wages into the hands of many, and take us closer to achieving our health and nutrition goals
The unsung heroes of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic have most definitely been the millions of frontline women workers, especially Accredited Social Health Activists (Ashas) who have been working tirelessly at the community level. They have engaged in numerous activities, ranging from door-to-door surveys, contact-tracing, awareness campaigns and ensuring quarantine/isolation. This is in addition to their regular roles, ranging from accompanying pregnant women to health centres, keeping track of immunisations, making home visits for new- born care and following up on tuberculosis patients.
Recently, these workers have been in the news for their strikes, demanding better payment, regularisation, access to personal protective equipment and free health care. Who are these women and are their protests, in the midst of the pandemic, justified?
Currently, there are about a million Asha workers who have been crucial in the efforts to decentralise health care and strengthen the primary health system. Their contribution to the increase in institutional deliveries, immunisations and decline in maternal and infant mortality has been widely noted. While each Asha worker can easily spend six to eight hours working in a day, she is not paid a regular monthly salary.
Instead, the central government has an incentive-based system in which, at the end of the month, each Asha worker is paid based on the basis of the tasks she has completed on a pro-rata basis. Following protests, recently the incentives were revised such that each worker can earn at least Rs 2,000 per month. Some other tasks that Asha workers undertake such as conducting awareness campaigns are not listed as activities they are given incentives for, but they still do so as a commitment to the community. In contrast, the minimum wage for unskilled workers suggested by a government- appointed expert committee in 2019 is Rs 9,750 a month.
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Hindustan Times, 5 September, 2020, https://m.hindustantimes.com/analysis/why-society-owes-asha-workers-a-debt/story-sKhgxsrNcH9mShfVhYaFzL_amp.html?__twitter_impression=true&fbclid=IwAR3qL4RFI5Vw0zzB07Q__bkVmL5CKLLYUCnjlOLMhoKgTyEgrlL2vFYto-A