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.
- 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.