As the Coronavirus pandemic sweeps through India, districts are being tapped by the government for timely detection and reporting of cases, and prevention. Our ‘Inside Districts’ series will feature interviews of Block-level officials, panchayat functionaries and frontline workers to understand their challenges and best practices.
In late March, it was reported that Worker Unions for ASHAs approached the Union government over lack of personal protective equipment among other concerns. The Accountability Initiative at the Centre for Policy Research is currently operational in five Indian states. For part one of the series, our field staff spoke with an ASHA worker in Jaipur, Rajasthan.
The interview was originally conducted in Hindi on 31 March 2020, and has been translated.
Q: When and by whom were you given instructions on Covid-19 prevention and treatment?
ASHA worker: Instructions were given by the Primary Health Centre on 24th February. We were told that people have to be made aware about the danger of Coronavirus at the sub-center level. We were also told about the symptoms, and were instructed that if anyone [citizens] shows these symptoms we should assist them in contacting a doctor.
Q: What are your COVID-19 related tasks?
ASHA worker: I am mainly working on awareness raising activities. The Health Department gave a chart pictorially depicting the dos and don’ts. If a person arrives from outside, then this information has to be given to the department. If there are suspected patients then, with the help of the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife, I send them for treatment. I also distribute medicines for people with symptoms related to seasonal colds. Patients of asthma, tuberculosis and respiratory problems are more vulnerable, and I provide them with masks. I am preparing these masks at my level.
Q: And what about equipment for yourself?
ASHA worker: No, I have not been provided masks and a hand sanitiser. I had demanded this from the Primary Health Centre, but they said that these were unavailable because the supply had stopped.
Q: Are there any other challenges that you face?
ASHA worker: The biggest problem is that people do not want to share information about their health. Their mindset is: ‘they (the health department) will take us somewhere and probably will not allow us to return’. Due to this, people do not want to give health-related information. People coming from other states also hide information. Although I do explain to them that this will not be the case, yet the illusion persists.
Q: What about your colleagues?
ASHA worker: If I were not an ASHA, my family would have never let me leave the house. Initially, I felt bad about us ASHAs going out in spite of the lockdown. I thought, ‘don’t we have a family? What about our safety?’
I talked to my Block Coordinator about this. My Block Coordinator explained to me that at this point in time the government, the department had expressed confidence in us. We should not back down! I too felt it. Yes, this is a responsibility and needs to be fulfilled well. I hope that people will also help us [cooperate] so that we can carry out our duties.