Covid-19: With No Proper Safety Equipment, ASHA and Anganwadi Workers Are Working Tirelessly

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About a month back when the COVID-19 cases started to come up in India, ASHA workers were quickly mobilised by, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to act as per the Micro Plan for Containing Local Transmission of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) to do contact tracing of COVID-19 positive cases and to create awareness among the residents of their communities. Furthermore, ASHA workers visit the quarantined houses every day to ensure the members of the house weren’t violating their quarantine in addition to providing them health assistance as required.

Who are ASHA workers and Anganwadi workers? When we think of healthcare and health care workers we only think about doctors, nurses and maybe lab technicians to an extent. There is a silent yet powerful force of healthcare workers who are called ASHA(An Accredited Social Health Activist) and Anganwadi workers. Women aged 25-45 from local communities make up the ASHA and Anganwadi workers. They are from the same locality to which they are assigned. The reason why many of us hardly know about these women is that when we live in cities and go to big private hospitals and clinics this force is invisible. Nonetheless, governments across states use this force to deliver nutrition, healthcare to lakhs of disadvantaged women and children in our villages, towns and cities.

Anganwadi workers go a step further and even provide cooked meals and education to children below the ages of 5. Mrs Usha, an ASHA worker in Bangalore says, “I use my handkerchief as a mask every day. I was not given much training but whatever information I have got I am using it to spread awareness in my community. I am very proud of the work I am doing for my community.” 

Just like how we ignore the health of our backbone, this force which does a thankless job is largely ignored. These workers go day in and day out to primary health care centres(PHCs) and Anganwadi centres, sometimes door to door to deliver health care services to lakhs of Indian women.

Ms Lavanya, an ASHA worker in Bengaluru said, “Government officials have given us basic information, we did not get any masks or gloves but this isn’t going to stop us from pitching in at this hour.” Another worker Hirelal says, “I have been posted to check posts, I go there and tell residents not to step out and tell them the importance of social distancing. There is no question of being scared. It is our duty and I am doing my best.”

The Asha workers are primarily the ones interfacing with the residents. Anganwadi and PHC workers provide them with the necessary support. Together this team gives quarantine data and contact tracing data to the higher health care coordinators. In addition to this, they also provide awareness on COVID-19 to residents and allay their fears apart from also supporting pregnant women and children.

Our foot soldiers get paid meagre wages. What is striking is that we have sent our foot soldiers onto the field with minimal training, no safety equipment and no additional money in such crippling conditions. Some of the situations that these brave ladies are fighting are their own fears, fight to ensure they have properly updated information, resistance from the community, fear and hatred of the community at the very least. 

In spite of all this, they are determined and are doing their task with a lot of motivation. Despite the lack of basic safety equipment they are devising their own ways. They have stitched their own masks or are using their dupattas or handkerchiefs to double up as masks. They are sensitising the community while putting up a brave face for their families. 

Anganwadi workers are urgently urging their higher officials to ensure that vitamins and food essential for children and pregnant women are delivered even under these conditions as they fear long term implications including malnutrition and first 1000 days milestone delays in infants and toddlers. While the Anganwadi centres have been closed since March 13,  they are thus using their supplies to cook and supply meals door to door to thousands of children and pregnant women. Despite the lukewarm reception to this initiative they are marching ahead since this government-sponsored meal is perhaps the only meal for lakhs of impoverished children on a day to day basis.

Anganwadi workers in Gujarat and other states have reported that due to lack of public transport they aren’t able to go to Anganwadi centres every day. There have been instances when their supply of grain has been seized by the police and they themselves have been targeted when they used their relative’s vehicles to reach Anganwadi centres.

Speaking to the Efforts For Good team, Mr Varun Sharma, Secretary to District Level Committee on Transformation of Aspirational Districts Programme posted in Jharkhand, said that, “ While it may seem that we are underprepared, this is an extraordinary situation and we have activated the disaster management task forces within districts to ensure that we can ensure the least bit of inconvenience to the local people. We have restored supply chain disruption and are successfully carrying out awareness and contact tracing programs while ensuring that pregnant women and young children are not forgotten. We have started district level mobilisation of safety gear such as masks on our own to support the workers. We believe that we cannot always expect the state or the centre to give us everything as it’s time taking and limited in nature. We are ready to support the government and the health ministry in any manner that may be required by us.”

Thus, it is time that we give attention to this invisible workforce and make sure they are given safety gear, adequate information and support them in every way possible as these brave souls need us more than ever. 

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Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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