New Delhi: Matilda Kullu, 45, an ASHA worker for 15 years from village Gargadbahal in Odisha, was one of the names included in the list of the most powerful Indian women of the well-known magazine Forbes in 2021. Her name was featured along with Amazon head Aparna Purohit and banker Arundhati Bhattacharya. This is the first time that an ASHA worker has made to the coveted list. Matilda, who is neither business leader nor highly educated, was recognised for her dedication to her work as an ASHA di. Thanks to her constant effort since 2006, today the rate of institutional deliveries in her village is 100 per cent, the overall health of the people and children has also improved, and her village is one of the few villages in India that completed 100 per cent COVID-19 vaccination in the initial phase.
Matilda’a Journey As An ASHA Worker
Matilda started working as an ASHA worker with the aim of improving the financial condition of her family, which comprised her husband and two children. But little did she know that this work will not just empower her financially but will also uplift her status of being ‘ASHA Di’ who people look upto and trust. Today, she proudly says,
It feels nice to be doing something for my village people. It feels very special to save their lives.
Explaining her daily work and the journey of being an ASHA worker, Matilda said,
I begin my day anywhere between 5:30-7 am, depending on the workload. Before starting my work day, I have to finish all my household chores as well. Once done, I pack my tiffin and head out to the field. My work involves going door-to-door, checking on pregnant and new mothers, testing for malaria, malnutrition, advising women on hygiene and contraception, holding meetings with Anganwadi workers, and following up with houses for Covid symptoms and vaccines.
Highlighting her daily challenges and her fight against superstitions, casteism, Matilda said,
When I joined as an ASHA worker, things were pretty bad in the village. None of the expecting mothers wanted to go to the hospital for the delivery. It was common for the mother or the newborn to die during delivery. People used to believe in exorcism or sorcery for serious illnesses and didn’t know the concept of hospitals and doctors. So, when I took charge, I decided to change this. I went to each and every household in my village, made them understand the benefits of delivering babies in the hospital, convinced them to take proper diet, medicines and tried to build trust.
Recalling some of the incidences and how she dealt with them, Matilda said,
Sometimes people thought I was the reason they fell ill.. They told me not to visit them again. If they used to offer me a glass of water, they would refuse to touch that later. But, all this, didn’t bother me at all. I was clear in my head, I will try my best to change this mentality.
It took Matilda some time, but gradually things started to take a good turn. Villagers started to believe in Matilda, they understood her point and started doing whatever she told them and that is the reason why today her village has 100 per cent rate in institutional deliveries.
Matilda’s Efforts During The Covid-19 Pandemic
Matilda says COVID-19 brought back superstitions in her village and dealing with it was a challenging task. She said that many villagers initially thought Covid was a “hoax” and feared they would die if they get vaccinated. Matilda once again did what she is known for in her village – she went door-to-door and educated the villagers about COVID-19 and its vaccination. After a lot of hardwork and daily visits, she was able to convince people in her village to get tested, isolate (if Covid positive), and get vaccinated. Because of her constant efforts, today her village boasts of 100 per cent COVID-19 vaccination status.
Matilda signs off by saying,
I love helping people. I love the fact that because of my efforts today I have been able to save so many lives and many in my village are living a healthy life. Being an ASHA worker is not an easy task, we have to understand the villagers’ point of view and then convince them in a way they will understand. But with dedication and constant efforts anything is possible.
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.