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“People Thought of Us As Virus Carriers”: Experience Of A Frontline Worker

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ReimagineTogether logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #ReimagineTogether, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with UNICEF India, YuWaah and Generation Unlimited, to spark conversations to create a new norm and better world order in the post-pandemic future. How have you and those around you coped with the pandemic? Join the conversation by telling us your COVID story and together, let's reimagine a safer, better and more equal future for all!

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

This interview was conducted as a part of a research study funded by Azim Premji University under the COVID-19 Research Funding Programme 2020. The study delves into the experiences of frontline workers in Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was conducted with an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife in Jaipur, Rajasthan, on 12 January 2021 in Hindi and has been translated.

Covid Frontline Worker
“It is very demotivating when people do not listen to our advice or break the rules.”

Q: During the past nine months, you have been involved with COVID-related work. Can you give a brief overview of what your COVID-19 pandemic and non-pandemic duties were?

Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM): We were put on a “Corona Warrior” task force, and my work was primarily to do door-to-door surveys to check if anyone showed symptoms. I would also monitor people arriving in the village to see if they had any symptoms and send them to self-isolate. I would check up on them every 2–3 days to see any development of symptoms.

My entire area has a population of 6,200 people, so I also had the responsibility of spreading awareness about the COVID-19 virus. No one knew what this virus was, and no one expected it to reach us. People thought it would stay as something we hear about in the news or read in the newspaper, but as Frontline Workers who knew about the seriousness of this virus, we were also given the responsibility to tell people about it and answer any questions of theirs in utmost detail.

Throughout this phase, my normal tasks of immunisations were paused. It was only in May, when the restrictions weren’t as strict, that we resumed with immunisations while following protocols such as using sanitisers, masks and social distancing.

Q: What was your relationship with other Frontline Workers (ANMs, AWWs and ASHAs)/other Corona Warriors in your area post the pandemic? For instance, how often do you speak with each other, and what coordination have you been doing?

ANM: There is always coordination among us FLWs. We — ANMs and ASHAs — do the survey together; we figure out how to divide the work, specifically linked to door-to-door surveys. Even outside of work, we are always in touch. We talk about the challenges we face.

We’re always there for each other. Whenever it’s late in the evening and we still have homes to survey, we accompany one another so that no one has to travel alone. It is tough to go into people’s houses, especially late in the evening, so we stand as each other’s support system and help out whenever possible.

Midwife Vaccine
‘My normal tasks of immunisations were paused. It was only in May, when the restrictions weren’t as strict, that we resumed with immunizations.”

Q: Have there been challenges to carrying out your work?

ANM: It is very demotivating when people do not listen to our advice or break the rules. So many times, we send people messages, videos, show them posters to make them aware of the rules and protocols to be followed during the pandemic, but they choose to ignore it.

A lot of people also refused to listen to us and misbehaved. This one time, a visitor misbehaved with me and refused to isolate me. I tried reaching out to my supervisor for help, but that was of no use. I was instead asked to report to the Panchayat, so I first sought help from the police and then reported the matter to the Panchayat.

I have not faced many challenges. Transport, for instance, has never been a problem. I have a car, so I use that for travelling everywhere. I have not received reimbursements for fuel. Even for pandemic-related work, I got incentives for roughly 2–3 months, but nothing after that.

The urgency of this work, though, has been a major challenge. It requires us to be on our feet all the time and be responsive over texts and calls throughout the day. 

The months of March and April 2020 were the toughest because people weren’t aware that we were supposed to check on them. They used to say mean things to us and not allow us into their houses. They used to think that since we keep roaming here and there; we were also infected with the virus. They used to think of us as untouchables.

Workload has also increased a lot. Earlier, for instance, if people had common cold and cough symptoms, we would ask people to take care of it themselves. But now, even for such small things, we advise people to come to the Primary Health Centre and get checked. So there is an increase in the health issues we also treat.

Doing work is also tougher because we have to take more precautions like using masks, sanitisers and wearing gloves. I am also more than 50-years-old, so I get breathless and tired very quickly. Keeping a mask on turns out to be a difficult problem.

Q. How did you overcome the challenges that you faced?

ANM: It is my responsibility to do this work. I have been in this role for 32 years, doing the same work every day. I can’t leave this job now that people like me are needed. I am aware that my people need me, so that keeps me motivated.

It is also about money. I am the sole earner of my family right now. My husband is sick.

There’s also the fact that whenever I raise awareness about healthcare or talk to people about COVID-19, I feel nice. I feel like I am capable of something. This has also helped me stay motivated.

More experiences can be found on the dedicated Inside Districts platform.

This post is a part of COVID Diaries, a special series under the #ReimagineTogether campaign. Tell us how this lockdown and pandemic has affected you! Join the conversation by adding a post here. here.
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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