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No Safety Gear, No Equipment: ASHA Workers in Bihar Complain of Apathy

ASHA Workers in Bihar's Araria district continue to work as frontline workers without any safety gear.

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4 min read

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Video Editor: Shubham Khurana

A usual day for 35-year-old Babita Devi, an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) in Amgachhi in Bihar's Araria district includes door-to-door surveys to trace any cases of COVID-19 in the village.

For the past 16 months, Devi has been on the front line fighting the pandemic by creating awareness, urging people to get vaccinated and notifying the authorities about any possible cases in the village.

But despite the hard work, Devi complains of neglect and ignorance at the hands of the administration. Devi says that she is not only poorly compensated, but even the safety gear given to ASHAs is not adequate.

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"We were asked to do a survey because of coronavirus. We went and were given a pair of gloves and a mask. We were told that we need to find out who all are suffering from fever and cold at home. But they didn’t give us any equipment to measure their temperature."
Babita Devi, ASHA Worker
<div class="paragraphs"><p>ASHAs  conduct contact tracing with just a mask as protective gear.&nbsp;</p></div>

ASHAs conduct contact tracing with just a mask as protective gear. 

(Photo: Video Volunteers) 

'Not Fairly Compensated'

Babita Devi says that while everyone in the village was staying indoors, ASHAs like herself were going out to conduct surveys, putting their own lives on the line.

"When we used to go out and do the survey, no one would leave their homes yet we went out and worked. We kept our lives on the line. We work and get Rs 1,000 monthly, but government gives us no value for the work we do,” she added.

As a health activist, an ASHA provides essential information, counselling, and creates awareness about health and health-related services.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>ASHAs work in the remotest areas of the country.&nbsp;</p></div>

ASHAs work in the remotest areas of the country. 

(Photo: Video Volunteers)

ASHA is the first point of contact in rural India for any health emergency. Despite being the backbone of the health infrastructure in the rural areas, they are poorly compensated.

'Worried About Getting Paid'

But this is not an isolated story of just one ASHA in a village or a state. ASHAs have staged protests and asked for fair compensation for their work over the years.

Another ASHA that we spoke to, echoed the sentiment and said that she worries about getting paid for the work she has done.

"I have 1,800 people to survey and I travel for three kilometres. I am using my own money for the fare, masks and gloves every day. Can't reuse the mask and gloves they gave me long time back, can I?"
Asha Devi, ASHA worker
<div class="paragraphs"><p>As breadwinners of the family, they have to eke out a living with their meagre salaries.&nbsp;</p></div>

As breadwinners of the family, they have to eke out a living with their meagre salaries. 

(Photo: Video Volunteers) 

Highlighting the issue of safety, she points out that very often the ASHA stays with the family during deliveries or other such cases, but very often they are not even allowed inside their homes.

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When we contacted the Block Community Mobiliser Sandip Kumar Mandal for a comment, he dismissed the concerns and said that the ASHAs don't require personal protective equipment (PPE) or any safety equipment because they don't conduct any tests.

"They aren’t supposed to test. Just survey and identify the people who have travelled from different districts. Once identified, we send an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) for check-up. They have to survey and report."
Sandip Kumar Mandal, Block Community Mobilizer

On being questioned about compensation, Mandal said that the ASHAs receive only “work-based incentives”.

“Last year in 2020 when we had COVID for first time, they were deployed to conduct surveys for three months under which they were paid Rs 1,000 per month. This was on priority. The survey was of people who came from outside the state, to check COVID symptoms and identify them. In 2021, there is no survey incentive from the government level, only work-based incentive, which we pay regularly,” added Mandal.

COVID-19 pandemic has put an immense pressure on the healthcare infrastructure of the country.

The medical fraternity has been working tirelessly round the clock to save lives. In rural India, most of the work is done by the ASHAs – frontline workers in India’s fight against COVID-19.

All they want is acknowledgement, equipment, and timely salaries for the essential work they do by putting their lives on the line.

(Reporting: Sita Kumari for Video Volunteers.)

(This story has been published as a part of The Quint’s COVID-19 fact-check project targeting rural women.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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