Kolkata: The working Accredited Social Health Activists across West Bengal wore black badges in support of the striking ASHA workers in the country on May 24. They will continue to wear the black badges tomorrow and day after as well, according to the Paschimbanga ASHA Sasthya Karmi Union, affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
There are 10 lakh ASHA workers across the country, as per government estimates, who have been at the frontline of the government’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic for the last one year. These workers went on a one-day strike demanding medical insurance, COVID-19 allowance, regular immunisation programme, among others. They also submitted memorandums regarding their demands to the District Medical officer and Block Medical Officer (BMO).
It should be mentioned that ASHA workers and facilitators form the first line of defence against COVID-19, particularly in the rural areas of the country. In West Bengal, some of these workers are being forced to work for over 12 hours, including surveys, reporting on COVID-19 patients, contact tracing and coordinating COVID-19 treatment, in addition to 8-9 hours of routine vaccination work, the union said.
While the government has declared Rs 50 lakh compensation for the families of ASHAs who die in the line of duty, a major section have not received any payment so far, the union added. Further, provision of PPE kits and other safety equipment are also being ignored by the government.
Also read: ASHAs to Stage One-Day Nationwide Strike on May 24
According to Madhumita Dutta of the union, the ASHA workers are facing several obstacles due
to the lockdown as health related routine work have closed down. While they were provided Rs 1,000 additional allowance from January to June last year, it has not been continued. Further, they are facing social ostracisation as super spreader due to the nature of their work, while they are being forced to work without adequate safety precautions, she added.
She also alleged that the Union Budget 2021-22 did not take into consideration the issues of ASHA workers and the government is focussing on privatisation at a time when the public healthcare system should be bolstered.
The ASHAs have demanded free vaccination for all frontline health workers including ASHAs and immediate withdrawal of the new private vaccination policy. They have also demanded that all field workers should be provided safety gear immediately. There should also be free and regular health check ups and COVID-19 tests for ASHA workers, in addition to Rs 10,000 financial allowance.
“Further, they are also demanding the clearance of pending wages, Rs 10 lakh compensation for COVID-19 and free treatment for all family members of COVID-19 affected ASHA workers,” said Sabina Yasmin, general secretary of the Paschimbanga ASHA Sasthya Karmi Union.