Close to 22,000 ASHA workers in Haryana have refused to operate an application introduced by the National Health Mission owing to privacy concerns. The ASHA workers were recently asked to download the application called MDM 360 shield to update their daily targets. The application also allows concerned authorities to track the location of the workers.
After a sustained protest, the ASHA workers who had been asked to do work online were given smartphones to help them work more efficiently. The workers use smartphones to update data of COVID-19 infected people in the village, helping the administration to keep a track of the patients.
The workers have raised concerns about the “mandatory” downloading of the application. As per the workers, district and block ASHA coordinators downloaded an application to their phones. The coordinators didn’t even share the passcodes with them, they said, mentioning that the application exposes them to greater “scrutiny and harassment”.
According to Surekha, general secretary of the ASHA Workers Union and state president CITU Haryana, the application is meant for “surveillance.”
“The application paves the way for scrutiny and harassment. Our coordinators, who are mostly men, can track our location and can even access our phone virtually. They can have access to our data, pictures and other information. Isn’t it appalling?” she said.
The workers said that several incidents of harassment have surfaced recently and that the application would increase their worries. “ASHA workers have been threatened and harassed even when they were working without phones. Now, with coordinators handling our phones directly, there are chances that something contentious could be dropped into our phones and we might be blackmailed,” Surekha added.
The ASHA workers from all 22 districts in Haryana have unanimously decided to handover their phones to the department as a mark of their protest. “Right to privacy is our fundamental right and we can’t let anyone encroach on that. If the application cannot be removed, we are ready to handover our smartphones,” said an ASHA worker.
ASHA workers form the backbone of healthcare delivery in rural areas of India. During the COVID-19 period the workers have been conducting to door-to-door surveys, yet their demands have been ignored. The workers alleged that they are not regularly provided with masks and sanitisers which is an essential part of the kind of work they have been doing.
At a time when people are being asked to double-mask to prevent COVID-19, the workers, who come directly in contact with the infected patients, are not regularly provided with a single mask.
“It is impossible to work for an entire month with only two to four surgical masks. Safety equipment is not available at Primary Health Centres (PHC’s). We should be provided resuable masks at least along with surgical masks,” said Surekha.
Even after working at the frontlines, the workers are not being recognised as health workers. The ASHA workers were also deployed at rural vaccination centres to ensure the process was conducted smoothly. In addition, the workers have been creating awareness regarding the importance of vaccination.
“Many ASHA workers don’t have ID cards and are facing difficulty in conducting surveys. We insist that ID cards be provided to workers so they conduct their work efficiently,” said another worker.
Recently, Newsclick had reported on the families of ten ASHA workers who died of COVID-19 in Haryana and have not received money from the Central Government’s insurance scheme. The numbers of the deaths has risen, yet the families have got no compensation from the government.
“We demand that a 50 lakh central government and 10 lakh Haryana government insurance be given to the families of ASHA workers who died of COVID-19,” said the ASHA Workers Union, Haryana.