Distrust at the frontlines

by Menaka Rao
Araria district, Bihar

This story has been republished from Newslaundry. You can find the original piece here.

The entire health system of the country is straining to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and ASHA workers are fighting from the frontlines. Across states, they have been asked to identify symptomatic migrant workers who have returned to villages, so that they can be tested by doctors and nurses. But while doctors’ teams have masks and cars, the ASHA workers have no protection. With public transport suspended, they sometimes walk up to 10 km to search for migrant workers in the area.

They also face a lot of distrust from the community. Kiran Jha, an ASHA facilitator from Araria in Bihar says, “Migrant workers are scared that the police will take them away, that they will be made unconscious and killed.” The ASHA workers have to assuage these fears, and tell them they will be only taken for medical treatment or will be quarantined.

This distrust sometimes turns into abuse from villagers. “One ASHA called me last week. There was a patient who was identified as a migrant. The ASHA and the village chief accompanied the doctor’s team. But after the team and village chief left, the family went after the ASHA,” says Kiran. The ASHA was allegedly abused for reporting the migrant worker to the health system.

“The family told her: ‘Why did you give my son’s name to the medical team? If something happens to my son, we will file a case against you’. We all live in the same community. While we are working for them, they feel we are endangering them,” says Kiran.

Additionally, ASHA workers in Bihar have not received any honorarium so far, and have only been receiving sporadic incentive-based payments.

Menaka Rao is an independent reporter who writes on health, law, and gender.

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