In rural parts of India, where more than 70% population resides, it is a 10-lakh strong army of ASHA workers, which ensures the last mile delivery of healthcare services – in whatever limited form they exist. Yet, they do not have the status of “workers” from any of the governments and are recognised merely as “activists”, as the name suggests – Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA).
Since they don’t have the status of workers, they are devoid of basic rights such as fixed salaries and social benefits. India is recognised for reducing its maternal and infant deaths – an achievement in which ASHA workers played a big role. In many other routine health services such as routine immunisation of children, pulse polio drive and ensuring institutional delivery of pregnant women, they have made major contributions. And, most recently their work in COVID-19 management in rural areas has been appreciated.
Their many contributions were recently recognised by the World Health Organisation which gave them the ‘Global Health Leader’ award in May. But this global recognition has brought zero change in the lives of ASHA workers. They are back to work, and to agitations. Between September 16 and 18, ASHA workers from 20 states and Union Territories congregated for a national convention in Haryana’s Kurukshetra. The Wire spoke to some of them to understand what their issues are and what challenges they face not just on the field but also when they speak up.