The fever came unannounced, confining Asha worker Seema to her home in Prem Nagar. While her mind dwelt on seven prescription cards for pregnant women classified as serious cases in her area, she knew the medicine would not reach them until she recuperates.
Seema’s job involves looking after the basic health needs of 1,600 people, including keeping a close watch on 35 pregnant women. With what little strength she had left, Seema attended to multiple phone calls from panicked residents with doubts about coronavirus symptoms. “I have been counseling people in my area about social distancing and symptoms of coronavirus. I also have to make sure pregnant women get their medicines,” said Seema.
At the forefront of the COVID-19 fight are Asha (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers, now part of the “corona foot-warriors containment and surveillance teams” tasked with alerting authorities about suspected cases. Team members are supposed to inquire about the well-being of people and availability of essential medical supplies in their area of operation, apart from advising residents on use of masks and social distancing. However, they have to do these tasks over the phone.
Laxmi, Laxmi, who works at Matrisudha, an NGO looking after child nutrition, said most of them don’t have masks, gloves or hand sanitisers.
“Asha workers used to visit their areas during the first phase of the lockdown. They later stopped stepping out of their homes and are now advising patients over the phone. The most vulnerable people in this lockdown are pregnant women who need medical attention to reduce the risk of stillbirths and other pregnancy-related complications,” she said.
Asha workers are a part of a crucial medical supply chain. There are 6,035 ASHA workers in Delhi, one for every 3,300 people. Currently, they only step out of their homes to visit their local dispensary and drop the medicines at a patient’s doorstep. They also try to convince other women to stay at home and not take their children to dispensaries for vaccinations.
Manju (40), an Asha worker from Dwarka Sector 15, used to counsel pregnant women on nutrition. These days, she is a part of a team of five tasked with checking up on people under home quarantine. “I have been doing this since March. We go to their homes and ensure they are following rules, and paste the ‘home quarantine’ poster outside their residence. After this, we take updates over the phone,” she said.
Among those she monitors are a few men who were at the Nizamuddin Markaz and are now quarantined at a house in Dwarka: “I have a mask and a pair of gloves. I haven’t been given a sanitiser, so I carry one from my own house.”
At Pul Prahladpur, Bhagwan Devi’s phone does not stop buzzing. She has around 2,000 people in her locality and has to keep a track of anyone complaining of coronavirus symptoms. Recently, along with police, she visited the house of a woman from the neighbourhood who complained of fever. “Thankfully, she did not test positive. I used to step out every day since I don’t know how to do my job over the phone. I advise people not to touch their face and clean their hands. It is a tiring job,” said Devi.
Asha workers Kundan and Reena said they too have been managing work over the phone and avoid going out as they haven’t been given gloves or masks. Reena said she gets at least four calls a day from expecting mothers, and “goes to the dispensary to get them medicines”. “I cover my mouth with a chunni, get the medicines and drop them off at the woman’s house. This happens at least twice a week,” she said.
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