In a First, National Federation of ASHAs Set to be Formed
300 delegates from 20 states gathered in Haryana's Kurukshetra on Friday. Image clicked by Ronak Chhabra.
Kurukshetra: As many as 300 Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) delegates from 20 states across the country gathered here on Friday for a three-day conference that will see the formation of a first-of-its-kind national federation of all-female primary health workers, who have been on the frontline in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conference, which saw the participation of leaders of ASHA workers’ and facilitators’ unions, affiliated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), on its first day, commenced with the demand for ‘better health for all by strengthening the country’s public health infrastructure.’
The women also sloganeered to intensify the struggle to turn National Health Mission (NHM) into a sustainable programme.
Envisaged first under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), which was subsequently extended also to cover the urban areas in 2013, ASHAs are community health volunteers acting as a critical link between the government’s healthcare system and the community.
Their tasks include, among others, mobilising the community and facilitating people’s access to health and related services, spreading awareness, and even acting as care providers to pregnant women and children requiring treatment.
Currently, there are nearly 10 lakh ASHAs in the country. Bereft of the ‘worker’ status, under the NHM, the all-women volunteers are entitled to task-based incentives for more than 60-odd activities, as listed by the Central government. In addition, they also receive an incentive worth Rs. 2000 for a set of routine activities from the Centre; over and above this, the different State governments are also allowed to fix a monthly payment for the ASHAs.
On Friday, the leaders gathered in Haryana’s Kurukshetra, rued that even as ASHAs have been playing a crucial role in strengthening the public health system and more so, played an important role in assisting the government machinery to restrict the spread of Covid-19 in the country since 2020 – for which, they were also recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – the long-pending demands of the ASHAs remain unaddressed.
“ASHA workers fought a vigorous fight against Corona (Covid-19) in the country and also fought for their rights during this time. For many years, ASHAs have been pressing particularly for regularisation of their services with regular salaries and due respect in view of their tremendous work,” K Hemalata, national president, CITU said while addressing the congregation during the first session on Friday.
K Hemlata, national president of CITU, said that it is time that the struggle of ASHAs is intensified. Image clicked by Ronak Chhabra.
She added that it is time that the struggle for the same is intensified, for which a national federation of the ASHAs will now be formed.
Dr O.P. Lathwal, former Director of Health Services in Haryana, who was the chairman of the opening session on Friday, extended his support for the demands of the ASHAs. He also highlighted that the social health activist movement in the country “owes its birth to the efforts and campaign” by organisations like Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA) and Peoples Health Movement (PHM).
“Moving forward,” Lawal said, “we must now combine ASHAs’ demands with the demands for people’s health which is the only guarantee for the success of their struggle. The ASHAs’ struggle must also focus on the social determinants of health such as food security with the expansion of Public Distribution System (PDS), safe drinking, water supply, sanitation, hygiene, housing employment and others.”
Jagmati Sangwan of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) said that the fight of ASHAs is also the “fight of every other woman in the country for a respectable position in the society.” On Friday, other speakers at the conference included leaders of the All India State Government Employees Association, Sarv Karamchari Sangh – Haryana, and JSA, among others. During the first session, a resolution to oppose the privatisation of healthcare was also adopted.
Speaking to NewsClick on the sidelines of the conference, A R Sindhu of the existing All India Co-ordination Committee of ASHA Workers, said discussions will be held among the delegates for the next three days after which a joint demand charter will be adopted by the newly formed national federation, which is proposed to be named, ASHA Workers’ and Facilitators’ Federation of India (AWFFI).
“Currently, there is a national federation of anganwadi workers and mid-day meal workers. And now, a federation on similar lines for ASHAs is also going to be formed,” Surekha of Haryana ASHA Workers’ Union told NewsClick on Friday. Anganwadi workers are envisaged under Saksham Anganwadi and Poshan 2.0 scheme (erstwhile, Integrated Child Development Scheme), while mid-day meal workers are part of the PM Poshan (earlier known as school Mid Day Meal scheme).
Asked about future programmes, Surekha said that a call for a joint national campaign of all the scheme workers in the country is expected to be given at the end of the three-day conference. “We will be fighting together for our legitimate demands,” she said.
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.