Over 7,000 accredited social health activists (ASHA), nurses, pharmacists and doctors from primary health centres protested against the state government at Azad Maidan on Wednesday, demanding increase in health budget, adequate supply of essential medicines, better pay, appointments to plug vacancies and permanent posting for nurses and pharmacists.
At present, the health budget is 3.6 per cent of the overall state budget. Sangli-based ASHA worker Suman Pujari said that stock of essential medicines has been delayed after the state government changed the procurement procedure.
“We do not have anti-rabies vaccines. Only paracetamol is left. There is shortage of even ORS for young children in case of diarrhoea,” Pujari said.
The protest was held by Alliance for Defence of Health Services and Rights, a joint movement by multiple organisations and associations, including Jan Arogya Abhiyaan and largest association of ASHAs under Maharashtra State ASHA facilitator and ASHA volunteers Federation.
The alliance presented 14 demands to the government on Wednesday. These included a recommendation to adopt the Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation Model to procure medicines. Currently, the state government has appointed Haffkine institute to buy and distribute medicines in rural hospitals and medical colleges.
This, protesters claimed, has led to delay and subsequent shortage in medicines.
Another demand was to end contractual appointments and provide permanent postings to healthcare workers. Chaya Gaikwad, attached with Maharashtra Government Nurses Federation, alleged that 15,000 posts for nurses in government hospitals and dispensaries remain vacant.
“Our demand is to fill these posts. A lot of nurses were assured permanent postings but continue to remain on contract,” she said. While the central government has raised incentives given to ASHAs for some programmes, the ASHAs demanded a better hike in honorarium. Currently, an ASHA worker handles 73 programmes at the village level.
Other demands included permanent postings for pharmacists and increase in sanctioned posts for them, formation of a state-level mechanism to monitor and control diseases transmitted from animals to humans, increase in health budget to Rs 18,000 crore in 2019-2020 and better facilities for ASHAs.