May 11, 2021 1:32:20 am
ASHA workers are the face of rural Punjab’s healthcare system in the fight against Covid-19, but most are waiting for the Health Department to pay their pending incentives, even as the second wave of the pandemic sweeps across the country.
In Punjab, ASHA workers are not even temporary employees of the state government and receive no salary. They sustain themselves only on the incentives they receive.
When the pandemic first hit Punjab last year, many ASHA workers were forced to take loans to buy smartphones to complete Covid-19 surveys. As the virus has been spreading, they are busier than ever.
Gurvinder Kaur, an ASHA worker from Gurdaspur, said, “I tested Covid-19 positive on April 10. I am yet to receive the Rs 10,000 compensation announced for ASHA workers who test positive. I am not alone… Many other ASHA workers too have not received this compensation despite returning to the job.”
She added, “We have to create awareness… We also have to bring the Covid-19 vaccine from sub centers to villages and then return the vaccine for Rs 90. We are promised Rs 2 for each contact traced for positive patients and Rs 2 for each vaccine shot, along with Rs 100 for food. But none of these promised incentives are paid yet.”
State level ASHA workers’ union leader Paramjit Kaur Mann said, “We are not given the fixed Covid-19 incentive of Rs 2,500 for the month of April. We are not paid the Rs 2 inventive per vaccination shot. No other kind of inventive like for food or bringing vaccine to village has been paid to anyone in the state. And yet we are supposed to work like regular employees. Whenever any ASHA worker misses anything on 9 to 5 office sechdule, her job is threatened. We work for 24 hours only on promised incentives which are never paid in time.”
She added, “Most ASHA workers come from poor families and it allow the system to exploit them more.”
However, the role of the ASHA worker is more important than ever.
Amardeep Singh Cheema, chairman of Punjab Health Systems Corporation (PHSC), said, “Everything is dependent on the ASHA worker. She has to generate leads about diseases. She has mandate as well as goodwill… She is a known face in the village. ASHA workers play the biggest role in the vaccination drive. She knocks at doors… She follows up with positive patients. She is the most trustworthy interface of government with public.”
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