With the strike by the National Health Mission (NHM) Insourced Employees’ Association entering the 20th day on Saturday, all national health programmes in Karnataka, including routine immunisation, tobacco control, Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK), National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme (NTEP), District Mental Health Programme (DMHP), and even AYUSH services have almost come to a standstill.
Work has been hit in several urban primary health centres and boards have been put up outside the centres informing the public about the strike.
Demanding regularisation of services, nearly 15,000 NHM-insourced staff are staging a protest demonstration at Freedom Park in the city since February 13. Around 30,000 staff members across 186 cadres, including doctors and paramedical staff, who were formally appointed under the NHM through committees headed by Zilla Panchayat Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) since 2006 have been handling national health programmes among other prime responsibilities in hospitals. They are paid directly under the NHM and not through an intermediate agency.
Citing the example of regularisation of NHM employees in Manipur, Punjab, and Rajasthan, the protesters have demanded that their services be regularised too. “Most of us have put in 16 years of service and are still drawing a monthly salary of ₹14,000. This is injustice when the permanent employees in the same cadre get nearly ₹80,000,” said Padma Rekha S., a social worker working under the District Mental Health Programme in Ramanagara.
Surendranath Malkapur, Drug Resistant TB supervisor in the BBMP, said the strike had severely hit the TB elimination programme. “Except for emergency services, we have stopped all other work. Despite repeated pleas to the Health and Medical Education Minister K. Sudhakar and the NHM State Mission Director we have been getting only assurances,” he said, adding that the NHM workers had slogged without any incentives during the pandemic.
Acknowledging their work during the pandemic, NHM Mission Director Naveen Bhat and State Health Commissioner Randeep D. said the regularisation of their services was a policy decision that could be taken only by the government. Dr. Bhat, who denied services had come to a standstill, said, “We are compensating work by deputing regular staff from other hospitals and Medical Education.”