Discuss the importance of ASHA workers in India. What needs to be done to improve their working conditions?

ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) is a social health activist in the age group of 25 to 45 years, who serves as the first point of contact for health-related requirements of deprived sections of the rural population. They are vital touch points, where public health policies are realized into outcomes.

About ASHA:

  • India launched the ASHA program in 2005-06 as a part of the National Rural Health Mission.
  • India has about 1 million ASHA volunteers.
  • The ASHAs have recently received WHO’s Global Health Leaders Awards 2022, for their extraordinary contributions towards enabling increased access to primary healthcare services.
  • It was extended to urban areas as well with the launch of the National Urban Health Mission.

Role played by ASHA workers:

  • Increased awareness on health issues by providing information about nutrition, basic sanitation and hygiene practices to people.
  • Reduce health information asymmetry.
  • Increase the institutional delivery process, which reduces IMR, MMR.
  • Vital for collecting health related information.
  • Provides small healthcare services like medicines for common problems, injections, etc.

Challenges faced by ASHA workers:

  • Low salaries, job insecurity and poor working conditions.
  • Lack of insurance coverage, despite being involved in high risk activities. E.g. Many ASHA workers got infected during Covid pandemic.
  • Due to large vacancies, high burden on the current staff.
  • Very few male ASHA workers, as a result Men don’t approach ASHA workers for their problems.

Thus, ASHA workers play a very vital role at the grassroot level. They are imperative to a better public health system, hence their working conditions need improvement, such as their salaries needs to be improved along with filling up of vacancies, gender diversity and insurance coverage.

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