Amid case surge in rural hinterland, Pune ASHA workers demand better amenities to fight pandemic

Other than paltry wages, limited transport options force them to walk six-eight km in hilly areas to check on villages

With rural areas of Pune and Maharashtra witnessing a surge in COVID-19 cases, the role of ​ASHA workers in tackling the pandemic has never been more critical.

However, with a few public transport options owing to the lockdown, many workers are compelled to walk six-eight km in hilly areas to monitor and check on villages and hamlets in these inaccessible places in the Pune rural region.

These workers have been demanding that the administration provide them with two-wheelers to assist them in their door-to-door monitoring and help screen potential cases.

“Every demand made by ASHA and Aanganwadi workers is justified. At a time when the deadly second wave has led many authorities, including private doctors, to keep to their homes, these underpaid ASHA personnel have been soldiering. Given that several villages in the taluks of Velhe, Bhor and Mulshi are quite inaccessible, they must be given two-wheelers to aid them in their daily tasks,” Pune Zilla Parishad member Rani Shelke said.

Ms. Shelke, a vocal advocate of the rights of ASHA workers, said that given the large areas they had to cover, the personnel deserved much better than their present low wages.

The 2,800-odd ASHA workers in Pune district cater to a population of an estimated 52 lakh people in Pune rural.

“The ASHA workers serve rural areas with 60 different types of health extension services and can be credited for the massive reduction in maternal and infant deaths through vaccinations. They care for pregnant and lactating mothers by taking them for regular check-ups, sonography, and provide them with tablets. They save lives of TB patients by giving them medicines at proper intervals,” Ms. Shelke said.

Given that their work is incentive-based, the average ASHA worker earns a paltry ₹4,000 a month, which translates into ₹48,000 a year. Even with maximum incentive, this rises to just ₹68,000 a year.

Ms. Shelke said the need of the hour was a proper policy on part of the ZP administration as well as the State government that would help ASHA workers get their due.

Acknowledging the enormous contribution of the ASHA personnel, Pune Zilla Parishad chief executive officer Ayush Prasad said that they had been at the core of COVID-19 management in rural Pune.

“They have been identifying between 2,000-4,000 people with SARI and ILI symptoms besides helping with contact tracing and ensuring people get into Covid care centres. Their meticulous screening ensured that a population of 52 lakh had just 48 cases when the first ‘un-lockdown’ was announced on May 7 last year,” Mr. Prasad said.

He said that even today, Pune rural still had over 100 villages that had not seen a single COVID-19 case.

“About 97% of the cases are detected early and with proper care. The death rates have remained consistently below 1% and are among the lowest in the rural hinterland anywhere in the country in terms of per million deaths. The full credit for this goes to ASHA workers,” he said.

Stating that they were a very disciplined force who hardly made any fuss, Ms. Shelke said that many ASHA workers were out there on the field despite several problems in their own families.

“As head of public health in the district, I couldn’t have been more grateful to them for their service. I strongly urge corporates and private individuals to come forward and consistently support them in their endeavours,” Mr. Prasad said.

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