Over the last couple of weeks, long work hours have become the norm for Sajidha, 35, an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA). She spends a better part of the day doing fieldwork in J.C. Nagar, and other areas in the city where COVID-19 positive cases have been reported.
Every day ASHA workers are potentially exposing themselves to the coronavirus as they spend hours in the scorching heat tracing primary and secondary contacts, gathering travel history of residents in a locality and other data. They do this for a fixed monthly honorarium of ₹4,000 and a performance-based incentive. They have been told that they will get an additional incentive of ₹1,000 for carrying out COVID-19 related activities.
“We leave home at 9.30 a.m. after wearing a mask and are done by around 2 p.m. We don’t drink water even in the scorching heat as when we are out on the field as there are no washrooms available,” said Ms. Sajidha.
On average, they cover 25 houses a day. ASHA workers admit that their work can sometimes be challenging as residents do not cooperate with them, while some of them ask them to return later. “After two attacks on ASHA workers were reported in Bengaluru and Belagavi, the police accompany us when we do surveillance work in some areas,” she added.
At the end of the work day, Sajidha returns home to her three children and husband who are worried about her safety. But she puts aside her fear of catching the virus and says, “This is the time that the nation needs our service more than ever before and we are proud to be the warriors fighting the COVID-19 battle,” she said.
ASHA worker Nagalakshmi V., is assigned to Padarayanapura ward which is one of the two wards that has been sealed down by the BBMP. It has been in the news after violence erupted in the area on Sunday. “We have been told not to enter any home and conduct some surveys. Initially, people were reluctant to give us any details and would tell us to go away. But after the ward has been sealed, people are worried and are now asking us questions and talking to us,” she said.
D. Nagalakshmi, State Secretary, Karnataka Rajya Samukyta Asha Karkarta Sangha, said that they face several challenges on the field and they are not given adequate masks and sanitisers.