Aasha workers of Maharashtra decide to fight!

In the MEL web edition dated 16th May 2021 we have written about plight of doctors and nurses especially during the current pandemic and complete apathy by Central and various state governments. Another very major set of front-line health workers are Aasha workers.

There are lakhs of Aasha workers all over the country. These Aasha workers get different remuneration as honorarium in different states. In many states they form the real backbone of fledgeling public health system and various schemes which government implements from time to time. Not only people who are the recipients of service given by Aasha workers but various national and international public health experts and various government functionaries have on record praised their contribution.

“Since we are doing an extremely important service to the society on a daily basis since last so many years, why are we not treated as government employees?” has been one question passionately raised by Aasha works all over the country. But the thick-skinned politicians of our country have expertly dodged this main question repeatedly.

In Maharashtra alone there are more than 67 thousand Aasha workers. They are one of the lowest paid across the country with a monthly honorarium of a little less than Rs.4000/- per month !  They get an additional incentive payment ranging from 2 to 4 thousand per month depending on the work done by them out of a list of 72 different tasks which have been assigned to them, which include very important tasks like (1) attempt to increase institutional delivery ( 2 ) collect information on various epidemic diseases like TB, Malaria and organize help for treatment ( 3 ) Help to organize predelivery check-up, breast feeding, iron supplement tablets, healthy diet for expectant mothers, advise regarding infant health ( 4 ) conducting survey of villages from time to time including record keeping of birth and death ( 5 ) Help government agencies in implementation of vaccination programs etc. Since the beginning of pandemic in April 2020 many of the regular tasks have been relegated to background by Maharashtra government. As a result Aasha workers have stopped getting the meagre incentive also and are forced to sustain on the honorarium. Right since April 2020 they have immersed themselves in helping people to fight the pandemic. They are checking whether  any persons in their assigned areas are affected by Covid, helping the affected to get quarantine facility or beds, preparing daily reports for their areas, organizing ambulances and doctors help, disseminating information regarding Covid, and all this in addition to many regular tasks assigned. During their work many times they face ire of scared or angry village folk.

Fed up with this state of affairs they have given notice to the state government that they will be going on strike from 15th June. Trigger for the strike call was a declaration by Health Minister of Maharashtra that Aasha workers will be imparted training to conduct Corona testing in rural areas ! This really angered Aasha workers since this will greatly increase the risk of contracting Covid. During last 14 months most of them have been gives masks and sanitizer just 2-3 times. Many Aasha workers who contracted Covid themselves could not get Oxygen bed or proper treatment and quite a few succumbed to Covid. They have been demanding that they and their family members be covered by Covid insurance but have been completely ignored. It is reported that recently when Aasha union representative met the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra to voice their demands, he arrogantly retorted that in the current situation government does not have money to even pay salaries and hence Aasha workers should also not raise any monetary demands but continue sacrificing like soldiers on the front !

This is how all the frontline health workers have been denied their rights and even basic conditions which are necessary for them to carry out their critical duties by successive governments. All these frontline workers are expected to be satisfied for getting an opportunity to serve and hailed as Corona Warriors with flowers showered from heaven and citizens beating thali in their honour at the behest of our great Prime Minister ! This attitude of the government is one of the main reasons for the pathetic state of affairs of public health system in our country. It is necessary that all the citizens of our country should wholeheartedly support the just demands of all frontline health workers.

Amit, Thane

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