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“No One Is Ready To Help Frontline Workers, They Think We Have COVID-19”

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This interview was conducted as 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 ASHA in Udaipur, Rajasthan, on 13 January, 2021, in Hindi and has been translated.

Asha Workers Collect Information Of People With Recent Travel History In View Of The Spread Of Novel Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic
Asha workers along with Delhi Civil Defence volunteers collect information of people with recent travel history. (Photo by Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Question (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?

ASHA (A): In terms of my pandemic-related tasks, the first and the most important one was to keep doing surveys. Whenever someone would enter the village, we would have to go to their place and get information on how many people they arrived with, what vehicle they arrived in, note down the vehicle number, and then ask them if they had any symptoms of cough and cold or if they had already been tested for the virus. This task kept us occupied through March-May.

In May, we resumed our other tasks like weighing pregnant women, assisting with deliveries and conducting immunisations. It’s not like we didn’t do these tasks in the previous months, but we highly discouraged people from coming to the Primary Health Centre for these. Instead, we asked them to inform us beforehand if they required any of our non-COVID related services, and then we would go to their homes and help them with anything they needed.

I am in charge of my own village and have a population of 900 under me, so it has not been that difficult to fulfil these tasks.

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?

A: My coordination was primarily with the ANMs. In fact, there is an ANM that I do all my pandemic and non-pandemic related work with. We even do our surveys together. This helps both of us as we have company and get emotional support.

Whenever there is any problem, I would just ask my ANM didi instead of going to my supervisor because I feel much closer to her. My supervisor though has been very supportive throughout.

Q: What has motivated you to come to work and carry out your activities during the pandemic?

A: I have been in this job for over 6 years now, so it is more like second nature. I have always wanted to work in the field of health. It is like a dream come true for me. There is also some comfort in knowing that I am financially independent. I don’t make a lot of money from this job, but it’s good enough to make me feel that I don’t have to depend on my husband for everything, which has kept me motivated.

During the pandemic, the biggest motivation is that I get the opportunity to give back to society. I get to work for my own people and help them, and this has kept me motivated despite backlash from these people for doing my work.

Sanitization Drive To Curb The Spread Of Coronavirus COVID-19
Asha workers checking the temperature of the residents living inside Coronavirus affected areas. (Photo by Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

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

A: My area is huge. Often, I have to walk 3–4 kms every day, which has been a big problem. It is complicated to get transport because no one is ready to help Frontline Workers (FLWs). They think we are infected with COVID-19 and will make them sick because we are in the field all day. We have tried everything, we even tell them that instead of giving ₹200 for a ride, we will give them ₹500, but they do not agree.

I have not got any reimbursements for all the extra money I have spent on travelling and doing door-to-door surveys. I spend ₹50–70 every day. I got my salary on time.

The people of this village are not ready to listen or cooperate. They do not like it when we go to their homes to do surveys. Most of the times, they lash out at us, saying that we should not come unannounced.

I remember this one time a patient had diabetes and had COVID-19 symptoms but lied to us. Later, when she tested positive, she revealed that she had been showing symptoms for a while. Because of this, the entire family got COVID-19.

There is a lot of stigma around this virus which prevents people from getting tested. Some people also told us that they would file police cases against us if we keep coming to their homes for surveys. I was doing surveys with my ANM didi and one of the households let the dogs out on us, and she got hurt. The people did this because they didn’t want to get tested for COVID-19 and were really frustrated with FLWs coming to their homes again and again for the same thing.

This job’s timing is also a big problem — I feel like I am always doing pandemic-related work. I have two small children at home, but I don’t get the time to help them. I leave home at 6 a.m. and come back by 7 p.m.

Q. How did you overcome the challenges you faced?

A: The first thing that I always do is to talk to people. I try my best to impart knowledge about the facts that can help them be less scared of the disease and be more open about the symptoms that they are facing. I also tell them that we don’t go around telling everyone about the people who have COVID-19. I tell them that there is utmost confidentiality, so they shouldn’t feel ashamed.

To manage the problem of transport, I usually ask my husband to help. Moreover, whenever a seat is denied to me in public transport, I show them my FLW ID card and tell them I will complain to the police.

Lastly, to cope with the job’s burden, I have learnt how to manage my time better. Earlier, it was very tough to give so many hours to this job, but now I wake up early, do my household tasks beforehand, and by the time it’s 6 a.m., I am ready for any work that my supervisor may allot me.

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

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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