Coronavirus | Health activists boycott work; contact tracing hit in Karnataka

Accredited Social Health Activists staging a protest on the National Health Mission office premises in Bengaluru on Friday.   | Photo Credit: K Murali Kumar

Demanding a fixed honorarium of ₹12,000 and adequate personal protection equipment apart from “COVID compensation”, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in the State stopped work from Friday.

Following this, tracing of primary and secondary contacts of COVID-19 patients and coordination work for quarantining of asymptomatic patients apart from other regular health survey activities, including immunisation, and mother and child tracking, have been hit across the State.

Representatives of ASHA workers, led by the All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) leaders, who assembled on the premises of the National Health Mission (NHM) office in the city, submitted a memorandum to Commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pandey on Friday. In the districts, memoranda were submitted to the District Health Officers (DHOs).

First point of contact

The frontline workers, who are the first point of contact between patients and hospitals especially in rural areas, allege that they are not being given PPE kits and hence are at risk of contracting infection while on field.

Moreover, what they get now is ₹4,000 as fixed honorarium as the State’s component and another ₹2,000 as the NHM component from the Centre.

“Although we have also been carrying out our regular duties of health surveys pertaining to immunisation and mother and child tracking, our performance-based incentives are not being paid regularly for the last three years. It is difficult to make ends meet with such a meagre pay,” said M. Rajeshwari, an ASHA worker from Kurugodu taluk of Ballari district.

D. Nagalakshmi, secretary of the Karnataka State Samyukta ASHA Karyakarteyara Sangha, said their strike would continue till the department considers their demands. “We have been appealing for a fixed monthly honorarium since January and all that we have got are assurances,” she said.

While Ms. Nagalakshmi claimed that almost all the 41,268 ASHA workers in the State had stayed away from work, State health officials said that nearly 70% of the workers were on the field on Friday. The Commissioner, who held a meeting to discuss their demands, said the government had convinced ASHA worker that their demand for a fixed monthly honorarium cannot be considered as the Centre had put in place a performance-based incentive payment mode across the country. This, being the time of a pandemic, was not the right time to raise these demands.

Prabhu Dev B. Gowda, State Nodal Officer for ASHA programme, who admitted contract tracing and other COVID-19-related work had been hit to some extent, warned the ASHA workers of action under the Karnataka State Epidemic Diseases and State Disaster Management Acts. “We can even go to the extent of invoking ESMA. They are not service providers but community mobilisers and activists by choice,” Dr. Gowda said.

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 7:50:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/health-activists-boycott-work-contact-tracing-hit-in-karnataka/article32047705.ece

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