ASHA workers in Rajasthan lead the way in using technology to provide health assistance to women and children
Until a few months ago, Asha Sahyoginis — the health workers of Jasol village in Rajasthan’s border district Barmer — could be seen lugging a bag full of registers. On their regular visit to track the health record of women in their public health centre area, they had to carry all types of registers. One for pregnant women, another for lactating mothers, newborns, immunisation and so on.
Now the scene has changed. Now they walk in smartly with their new-found asset: a tablet PC. Under a pilot project “E-Asha” of UNICEF and the State Health Department, the Asha Sahyoginis of Jasol village are the first ones in the country to go hi-tech.
The tablet PC has given a new confidence to the Asha Sahyoginis, who have been very quick in learning its use. About 25 health workers have been trained under the project for reporting the health status of women in the Jasol public health centre in Balotara block of Barmer.
Sharing her experience with the device, 27-year-old Devaki says that it is a very useful tool. Earlier, they had to try very hard convincing women, mostly uneducated, about the need to have vaccines or the ill-effects of malnutrition on their babies. “Now it’s much easier. Once we feed a woman’s data, we quickly get detailed information on her health status. We show her the video and she can understand how her low haemoglobin count would affect her health and what should a lactating mother eat.”
“It is a mutually educative experience,” she adds. Though studied only till Class VIII, Devki can type at a modest speed, though in Hindi. Her elder sister Saraswati and other colleagues are also very happy to be associated with this project. They say: “It is easier to work on the PC than the paper formats. The best thing is when we feed info about a pregnant woman, she may not be able to read it, but can certainly understand the visuals.”
Shayar Kanwar, also working at the Jasol PHC for the past eight years, says she is fully enjoying working on the tablet. “We have learnt a lot and the best part is earlier, women used to be reluctant to interact with us. Now they, too, have started taking interest. It is much easier for them to understand their health status. Even their family members can see that she needs better care,” she adds.
The Indian Institute of Technology, Jodhpur has contributed towards developing the software for the project. The initial results have been encouraging and hopefully it will be launched in the whole district in future. The health workers feed all the health information about pregnant women and children in the software designed for the pilot project. When the health workers upload information, they automatically get tips on how to take care of the women. An instant video gives tips on the steps to the followed, or if the pregnant woman or the child needs to be referred to the hospital. When data is uploaded by the health workers, it gets stored in with the IIT and in due course the UNICEF and the Health Department will be able to track the project’s success.
The district IEC (information, education, communication) coordinator Vinod Kumar Bishnoi says, “The software is fully equipped with all information on ante-natal and post-natal check-ups, all question-answers on newborns and immunisation list. The health workers have to upload the data once, then both the pregnant women and ASHAs get reminders for follow-up, check-ups and vaccinations through SMS.”
The border district of Barmer was chosen for the initiative because a State-level analysis of data revealed a relatively higher infant and maternal mortality rates here. In addition, the adverse geographic and climatic conditions also pose a challenge for health services system in border areas. Funds have been provided by the Jasol PHC to buy 10 tablet PCs for the Asha Sahyoginis.