The country’s frontline health workers or ASHAs were one of the six recipients of the the WHO’s Global Health Leaders Award-2022 that recognises leadership, contributions to advancing global health and commitment to regional health issues.
India’s 10-lakh strong health workers were conferred the honour for their “crucial role in linking the community with the health system, to ensure those living in rural poverty can access primary health care services, as shown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the WHO’s press statement.
An official of the Indian mission in Geneva collected the award.
During the pandemic, the workers were tasked with spreading awareness about COVID-19 and safety protocols, identifying and tracking COVID-19 positive cases as well as carrying out vaccination drive often without any personal safety gear. These activities were over and above providing maternal care, immunization for children and community health care.
Others who were honoured were eight volunteer polio workers who were shot and killed by armed gunmen in Afghanistan in February 2022, as well as Ludmila Sofia Oliveira Varela, a youth sports advocate from Cabo Verde and player of the national volleyball team for her work to facilitate access to sports as a healthy alternative to risky behaviours among young people.
Other recipients included late Dr. Paul Farmer, former Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of an international non-governmental organisation Partners in Health; Dr. Ahmed Hankir, a British- Lebanese psychiatrist who is known for his work on muslim mental health, islamophobia and violent extremism;and Yōhei Sasakawa,WHO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, and Japan’s Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by leprosy as well as chairman of Japan’s largest charitable foundation, the Nippon Foundation.
Reacting to the award for ASHAs, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “Their dedication and determination is admirable” and Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said he was “proud” of them.
The All India Co-ordination Committee of ASHA workers and facilitators affiliated with Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) responded to the PM’s message and said, “Scores of ASHA workers sacrificed their lives succumbing to COVID-19 and the Government of India doesn’t even have statistics on them. Their families are yet to receive the ₹50 lakh compensation for death due to COVID-19 for frontline workers.” They also demanded payment of minimum wages, social security benefits and pension. They get a monthly honorarium of ₹2,000 per month from the Centre, and some State governments offer an additional amount. During COVID-19, the Centre offered an additional ₹1,000.
The Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi echoed these demands and said that it was the visionary initiative of the UPA government that introduced ASHAs under the National Rural Health Mission in 2005.