ASHAs are community-level health activists who are part of the government’s National Health Mission, one of India’s longstanding public health programmes. Their role is to create awareness on health and mobilise the community towards local health planning, and uptake of existing government health services. At the village-level, the ASHA has to work closely with the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) and the Anganwadi Worker (AWW). As mandated by government guidelines, all three roles are carried out only by women.
Below is an interview with an ASHA worker in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The interview was conducted by the Accountability Initiative state field team in Hindi on 23 October 2020, and has been translated.
Q. How do you feel about your workload during the pandemic?
ASHA: In the initial days of the pandemic, my family was not allowing me to go outside for work. All of us were scared! However, later when the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) talked to them, they understood.
During the lockdown, when everyone was at home, we were going out like a warrior and spreading awareness among people. Simultaneously, we were also constantly worried about our families. After a day’s work, we would come home but stay away from the family. Staying away from children was especially challenging.
However, these times have made us more confident, we can work in any situation now!
Q. How have your duties changed after the Unlock?
ASHA: We have not been assigned any pandemic-related work now. We are back to our routine tasks. People are not scared of COVID-19 anymore. Everyone has started going out for work.
Q. Was vaccination being routinely administered during the early phases of the pandemic?
ASHA: Vaccination could not happen for three months – March, April, and May. In these three months, people had to visit the Community Health Centre for vaccination, and emergency purposes.
It was in June that vaccinations started again, and only five women were allowed to come at a time to ensure social distancing. In the initial days, only 50 per cent of the expected number of beneficiaries were coming because of the fear of COVID-19, but the number has increased now.
Q. What kind of challenges are you facing right now?
ASHA: We have to take the beneficiaries to the CHC. However, at times when we are not able to do that because of some other urgent work, they get really angry.
Also, mothers of malnourished children are required to stay with the child in the NRC for 14 days, but despite explaining this to them multiple times, they are not ready to come to the NRC.
The Inside Districts series was launched in April by research group Accountability Initiative (AI) at the Centre for Policy Research. The series has interviewed frontline workers and district and lower level government officials in five states. For FII, these have been curated by Avantika Shrivastava, Senior Communications Officer at AI.