Bengaluru: Thousands of Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) across Karnataka assembled at Freedom Park, Bengaluru, on May 17 to demand the delinking of the Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) portal from their incentives alleging that they have lost wages for several months due to malfunctioning software.
Currently, the healthcare workers are paid a fixed monthly salary of Rs 4,000 by the state government and Rs 2,000 by the Centre and incentives. The incentives are paid only if the data on completed tasks are manually entered into the portal. However, the software has been unable to save the entries due to a glitch.
The workers are an interface between the community and the health system. They visit houses of the marginalised and poor and provide information about nutrition, sanitation, immunisation and health facilities provided by the government. They also accompany pregnant women to hospitals for delivery and help sick children avail treatment at primary health centres (PHCs).
The workers are required to work only for two hours up to four to five days a week. However, they are made to work, at least, six to eight hours seven days a week with salaries not paid at times for three months.
“During the lockdown, we went door to door handing out medicines and sanitisers to COVID-19 patients. We also compiled reports of people entering villages from other districts and states. We worked late into the night,”
Chaitra, a worker from Kanakapura Taluk, in Ramanagara district, tells Newsclick.
Describing how they do things that aren’t part of their work profile, Chitra says, “Whenever they (the ministry of health and family welfare) want to conduct a health survey, they expect us to do the groundwork though it is not in our job description. We have to visit, at least, 20 households per day in order to complete a survey,” adding how they stay back with pregnant women during deliveries all night and return home in the morning. “There is a complete mismatch between our salary and the work we are made to do.”
Chaitra’s story is echoed by most ASHAs who spoke to Newsclick. In fact, their biggest anguish is the RCH portal, which doesn’t record the Rs 200 incentive they receive for accompanying pregnant women to hospitals. Sometimes, the portal shows zero performance for some workers. Besides, primary community health officers are not present to enter the data, the workers allege. The workers don’t have health insurance and aren’t reimbursed for medical expenses. Besides, festival leaves aren’t guaranteed.
Lakshmi Devi (28), a single mother with one child, has been working at the Kaggalipura village PHC. “I could neither eat nor sleep properly due to extra workload during the lockdown. I developed severe gastric problems and spent 15 days in a hospital. I wasn’t reimbursed for the medical expenses. The PHC told me I could quit if I was not satisfied with the working conditions. I was so hurt,” she says.
Some of the women broke down while recollecting their experiences. Despite rising inflation and the spike in food prices, the State government hiked their salary by only Rs 1,000 in April. The protesting workers were led by an AIUTUC-affiliated union called Karnataka Rajya Samyuktha ASHA Karyakarteyara Sangha. AIUTUC has demanded a fixed salary of Rs 25,000 for ASHAs.
Acknowledging the problems faced by the workers due to the portal, D Randeep, commissioner, health and family welfare services, said that the portal is being upgraded. However, when the protesters were not satisfied, he called for another meeting on May 27 to discuss the problem and the excess work being done by ASHAs. Karnataka has around 42,000 ASHAs, according to a union estimate.