COVID-19 fight brings out the best in ASHA workers

They supply essential items to home-quarantined people

March 29, 2020 12:45 am | Updated 12:45 am IST - Kochi

Beena A.A., an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) in Paravur, says she can reel off details of the elderly and those with existing health issues in her ward even in her sleep.

For the past few weeks, she has been on her toes gathering details to add to the ASHA worker’s existing trove of information about her immediate neighbourhood.

After long days of field work checking on people who are home-quarantined and supplying them with food kits and medicines, nights have been spent drawing up specific lists, including those of people over the age of 60 who are dependent on medication for diabetes or hypertension, and people who have ailments and live alone, she says.

“Some figures we regularly report like the number of children below the age of five, number of pregnant women in the ward, and the number of people with fever. But now, our lists have to be updated to include phone numbers and addresses in case somebody needs help,” said Lissy Varghese, ASHA worker at Piravom and district secretary of the CITU-affiliated ASHA Workers’ Union.

In the wake of COVID-19 infections, they could be required to provide information on those who are quarantined and others who could be vulnerable, at the drop of a hat, she says. Records are maintained in handwritten registers, and daily updates are submitted on people in home quarantine.

Suma C.N., an ASHA worker at Vadakkekara, says that with fears of the infection spreading, workers have been on the job all day and all night, with little time for the family. They would receive calls even at night from anxious neighbours reporting somebody’s return from abroad or other cities. “Our eyes and ears are always open and phones always switched on. People in the neighbourhood have yelled at us for having reported their return from abroad to health officials,” she says.

An ASHA worker’s rapport with the people in her neighbourhood has come in handy in this situation, Ms. Varghese says. “People are likely to open up to us. We stand as pillars of strength and support for those who are isolated,” she says. Their familiarity, along with that of anganwadi workers and Kudumbashree groups, leads teams of volunteers and other health officials through localities.

This was the first instance of such a large workload falling upon them all at once, Ms. Varghese said, but the all-women team of 2,372 ASHA workers in the district has got it under control. Over 3,800 persons are in home quarantine in the district.

While some public health centres and taluk hospitals have helped out with masks, most ASHA workers either have to purchase masks and sanitisers for themselves, or are drawing on what they had stocked up during the Nipah scare.

With food being prepared at community kitchens, ASHA workers have also been distributing food packets, particularly to migrant workers, said Latha Raju, an ASHA worker at Thattazham, Kochi. There are 220 ASHA workers in 70 divisions of the Kochi Corporation, while four divisions have none.

Often their honorarium of ₹4,500 per month is delayed by two or three months, which might have led to some women dropping work, Ms. Varghese said. The amount from the past three months was deposited only recently, and the delay usually results in financial problems for women whose families depend entirely on them, she said.

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