It is a move that will bring a positive change to preventive healthcare, including maternal and disease-control programmes. The State government is all set to provide mobile phones to all the 35,000 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in the State. These activists are community health workers in the World Bank-sponsored National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), which is being implemented by the Union government across the country. According to the NRHM guidelines, ASHAs are paid performance-based incentives for promoting universal immunisation, referral and escort services for Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) and other healthcare programmes.

Principal Secretary to Government (Health and Family Welfare) M. Madan Gopal told The Hindu on Monday that it was for the first time in the country that ASHAs are being provided mobile phones. “The Health Ministry has agreed to provide Closed User Group (CUG) SIM cards under the NRHM. The handsets will be procured through the Karnataka Health Systems Development and Reforms Project with World Bank assistance.”

Selected from the village itself and accountable to it, ASHAs are trained to work as an interface between the community and the public health system. They are the first port of call to meet the health needs of people at the village level. “It is essential to recognise the services of these activists and equip them with adequate financial support and technological tools,” Mr. Madan Gopal said.

He said the decision was based on the success of the State government’s experiment with Mother and Child Tracking System (MCTS). “This is at present up to Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM) level and we have found it to be quite useful in improving the efficiency of the programme,” he said.

NRHM Mission Director Suresh Kunhi Mohammed explained that every ASHA is expected to be a fountainhead of community participation in public health programmes in her village. The pre-paid mobile phones will be for specific usage to promote health programmes. It will help ASHAs communicate effectively with the people as well as the health system, such as doctors, nurses and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs), he said.

Decision welcomed

The Karnataka State Samyukta ASHA Workers’ Association has welcomed the decision. Association general secretary D. Nagalakshmi said the mobile phones would be of great help for the activists as they are spending their own money to submit daily reports to the ANMs and doctors. “With several villages coming under one primary health centre (PHC), it is very important for ASHAs to find out the availability of the doctor and medicines before escorting the patient to the PHC. The mobile phone will help us to communicate better,” Ms. Nagalakshmi said.

Pointing out that there were several other pending demands that were yet to be considered, she said: “ASHAs are responsible for creating awareness on health and its social determinants. They will provide information to the community on nutrition, basic sanitation and hygiene practices, healthy living and working conditions, information on existing health services and the need for timely utilisation of health and family welfare services.”