New Delhi: “I joined as an ASHA worker in 2006, noticing my dedication, loyalty and honesty, I was promoted to the job of ASHA Sangini in 2013,” says 42-year-old Deepti Pandey, who supervises the ASHA workers in her village, Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh. She belonged to a very underprivileged family, and her father passed away when she was very young. Despite the hardships of poverty, Deepti managed to study till 8th class. Even today, her financial struggles continue as she makes Rs 7,000 per month while her husband is a small farmer in the village whose income remains uncertain. The couple together are raising three kids who are 20,16 and 8 year olds.
When it comes to her work, Deepti is very particular to ensure the health and wellbeing of the people in her village. Her work includes convincing villagers for institutional deliveries for pregnant mothers, vaccinations, hygiene and sanitation as well as ensuring optimum nutrition for women and children. She tells NDTV,
In my village, we conduct regular surveys, I personally talk to each and every member of the family about all their diseases, vaccination status. If I get to know a woman is pregnant, I immediately start discussing their plan to deliver the baby with them and their family members. As an ASHA worker, I am responsible for explaining to them how important it is to have an institutional delivery to ensure the health of both mother and child. I mainly tell them about the complications that generally can arise during deliveries and how hospitals are equipped with each and every facility to solve those issues. People can now see evidently, how due to institutional deliveries, our women are able to give birth to healthy children as compared to how many women or children used to die during deliveries in our community.
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When it comes to nutrition, Deepti says that she tells family members that optimum nutrition for pregnant and lactating mothers is non-negotiable. The key is to explain to them that only a healthy mother can give birth to and care for a healthy child, she adds.
I tell them that they need to eat 3-4 meals a day, thinking that it is their medicine. As these meals will help them breastfeed their kid at least 8-10 times a day, only this can ensure that the kid remains healthy not just as a child but also as an adult. I also teach them about hygiene, I tell them that before touching their child, they need to wash their hands with Dettol soap. Not just that, whoever comes to visit and touch the child also must clean their hands first. If someone is sick, I tell them to keep their child away from them until they get well, Deepti tells NDTV.
Deepti further mentioned that at present she is heavily involved in the ongoing Sanchari Abhiyan and Dastak Abhiyan in her village scheduled from July 16 – July 30. Under these- campaigns, she and her fellow ASHA workers find the patients who are suffering with Tuberculosis, coronavirus, cancer, among other serious illnesses by conducting door to door survey. They then register these patients with the government and help them seek treatment and avail medicines.
We have to find these patients as most of them do not want to identify themselves in a rural setting due to the stigma and fear of exclusion. We have to explain to them that this is how you will get well, by seeking treatment, she explained.
Deepti says that in her initial days, when she would go and approach people, they wouldn’t believe her. But now, she feels like she has gained their trust, because they believe in her and seek her guidance.
After all these years, people in my village now trust me to ask any health-related query or questions before making a decision. If a child is unwell or if a pregnant woman is unwell, or even if there is any other illness, they call us first to ask what they should do. And then we have to guide them. Today, we are like family and they trust me with their health like they would do a family member, Deepti tells NDTV.
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However, as if her job wasn’t difficult enough, came the pandemic. With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in early 2020, Deepti says it was once again a challenge for her to explain the people of her community about the dangers of this new disease and what all do they need to do in order to prevent infection.
Despite being scared for her own life, Deepti was our on her duty, as a frontline worker in her village. However, she says, she was more concerned about saving others’ lives rather than her own.
To convince and explain to people that they need to not meet each other and stay indoor to quarantine, was definitely a challenge. We were scared too but had to keep our life at risk to help others. We used to think that even if we die, we need to save as many lives as possible. So many staff and ASHA workers got infected with COVID during that period. We would get people showing symptoms tested, if they come out positive, we had to make them quarantine. We had to arrange medicines, sanitisers, masks for them. Follow up and visit them regularly to ensure they are doing okay. Our family members would always warn us that we would get infected,+ but we would ultimately think at least we’ll be able to save some lives. I saved one pregnant woman during COVID. She was banished even by her family members because they said she might have corona and left her alone. When I got to know, I visited her in my PPE kit, took her with me to get tested, and she did come out positive. I then took her to the COVID centre to quarantine and get proper treatment, and she recovered, and both the mother and child are healthy today. That is what made me the happiest, Deepti shares from her experience during COVID pandemic.
Furthermore, in order to ensure maximum immunity against the virus, Deepti has to convince her community to get vaccine against the virus. This was not as challenging to Deepti, as she says since the year 2006, she had already been explaining people why vaccines are important for children. When it came to COVID vaccine, her villagers were already aware, especially after the severity and mortality rate during the second wave made headlines globally.
People in my village are aware, especially when they saw on TV how many people were dying due to COVID, they were understandable. We told them that if they didn’t take the vaccine, their life was at stake, she explained.
Living her life as an ASHA worker and Sangini, Deepti receives the utmost respect and admiration in her community.
Even Pradhans give us the chair to sit in meetings,” she exclaimed. “If there is any issue in the village, we are particularly called to the meetings. They consult us before doing anything in the village. But I am mostly happy because I am able to help people in need, who can’t afford it. If someone is dying, I can help them. If I am able to save lives, that is what makes me the happiest, Deepti added.
About ASHA Workers
ASHA (which means hope in Hindi) is an acronym for Accredited Social Health Activist. ASHAs are the grassroot health workers assisting the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) in delivering primary healthcare, particularly for women and children, in both rural and urban areas since 2005. There are over 10 lakh ASHA workers in the country. In May 2022, the World Health Organisation’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus honoured ASHA workers for their crucial role in linking the community with the health system, to ensure those living in rural poverty can access primary health care services, as shown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. India’s ASHAs are among the six recipients of the WHO Director-General’s Global Health Leaders Award. The award ceremony was part of the live-streamed high-level opening session of the 75th World Health Assembly.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.