New Delhi: NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India marked India’s Independence Day with a special episode – Saluting Bharat Ki ‘ASHA’ with Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. Celebrating 75 years of Independence, the episode was dedicated to the one million ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers, who are the backbone of rural health infrastructure in India and have been on the frontline of the country’s war against undernutrition, health. They have also helped in taking the message of hygiene far and wide. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, they became frontline responders in their respective communities. For their dedicated services and the outstanding contribution towards protecting and promoting health, ASHAs have also got global recognisation from World Health Organizationv (WHO). They are among the six recipients of the WHO Director-General’s Global Health Leaders Award.
To celebrate their work and showcase their inspiring journeys, Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan introduced eight of the health workers who were part of the show from across the country and appreciated their hardwork in achieving the dream of Swasth Bharat.
Here are the highlights from the Independence Day Special:
1. Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan kick-started the two-hour Independence Day special by highlighting India’s achievements in healthcare sector and the crucial role ASHA workers have played in fulfilling the dream of healthy India.
Mr Bachchan said:
- Our country has recorded significant improvements in healthcare. Life expectancy has doubled from 35 years in 1950 to 70 years today. Most infectious diseases have been brought under control. Many key indicators of rural healthcare have also improved.
- A key role has been played by our ASHAs, who are a backbone of the National Rural Health Mission and are at the forefront of ensuring a healthy India. Their contribution is enormous in reducing maternal and infant mortality amongst the rural and urban poor and improving immunization especially for making India polio-free and now helping us achieve our impressive COVID vaccination coverage.
2. In May 2022, World Health Organization (WHO) honoured India’s Accredited Social Health Activists or ASHAs with Global Health Leaders Award. They were among the six recipients of the award that recognised their outstanding contribution towards protecting and promoting health. Dr Roderico Ofrin, WHO Representative to India joined the NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India Independence Day special and emphasised on the role of ASHA workers in building a healthier India. On the show, he said,
– ASHA workers are true champions of health, they bring primary healthcare to the doorstep to people, especially the most vulnerable populations.
– For many women, children and vulnerable people living in rural areas, ASHA workers are often the first port of call for the health related needs.
– For years, they have been providing the health services, care and counselling to the community and helped educate people on important topics like nutrition, immunization, family planning and have helped protect them from getting infected with diseases.
– Their tireless efforts, commitment and contribution is more than commendable.
3. Dilen Gandhi, Regional Marketing Director, South Asia health and Nutrition, Reckitt spoke about the impact of the work done by ASHA workers.
Mr Gandhi said,
- What we have realised is that this one-on-one communication done by ASHAs in their respective area is the most basic and most effective form of communication.
- Through Dettol Banega Swasth India programme, we have reached to more than 11 and half crore people all across the country. And all this is done through the work of about 8,000 frontline staff and volunteers. Now, imagine the impact of work being done by 1 million ASHA workers that India has on ground.
- ASHA workers in India are working day in and day out and fighting for better healthcare. I think, they are the invaluable asset in our country, and it can be leveraged even further
- The core belief for Reckitt is that we believe that the right to nutrition, health and hygiene should not be a privilege, it should be a right. It should be accessible to everyone. With our programmes, we are trying to inculcate an understanding on hygiene and basic healthy habits. We try and make the products easily available in the market and do the communication in the right way, so that people understand the importance of hygiene and handwashing. We are seeing a big change in habits now. In next 75 years, we hope to see more changes taking place.
4. Ranjana Dwivedi, an ASHA Worker from Gurguda Village, Madhya Pradesh joined the panel of Banega Swasth India Independence Day special with Amitabh Bachchan. Mr Bachchan introduced her as an ASHA worker who daily travels 20 kilometres to provide her services as an ‘ASHA Di’ to her village people. Mr Bachchan highlights the difficulties Ranjana faces on a day-to-day basis and adds that sometimes to provide healthcare facilities and services, Ranjana has to cross a river or a jungle, which is a very challenging task. He also added that Ranjana’s work during COVID-19 pandemic was also showcased internationally in America by National Public Radio, who did a documentary on 19 women from across the world, and from India, Ranjana was the chosen one.
Explaining about her work and journey as ASHA Di, Ranjana said,
- Even after so many complications when I used to reach the village, the people there never used to entertain me or listen to me. They thought whatever I am saying is a hoax. When COVID-19 came, they didn’t know the meaning of quarantine, vaccine or precautions they have to take. It was spreading outside like wildfire and my motto was simple that it should not come in my village. So, I did whatever I could to make people of my village understand.
- When vaccine came, then also they simply said no. They thought that after getting vaccinated they won’t be able to give birth, I had to go door-to-door to bust all these myths. I took the vaccine first and showed them my certificate and slowly I was able to convince everyone and today we have achieved 100 per cent vaccination.
5. Ravi Bhatnagar, Director External Affairs & Partnerships SOA, Reckitt spoke about the many initiatives undertaken by Reckitt towards building a healthy India.
Mr Bhatnagar said,
- We have Reach Each Child initiative in Maharashtra’s two districts – Amravati And Nandurbar, wherein we have committed that there will be zero deaths and the focus is on first 1000 days. With the help of ASHA, Aganwadi workers and volunteers, we have been able to achieve the goal. Another programme of Dettol, which has begun recently is the Diarrhoea Net Zero initiative in Uttar Pradesh, where we are covering 13 districts and committing on saving lives of children with proper interventions. We are also training 10,000 ASHA workers and aim to train each and every ASHA worker of the state and take that number to 100 per cent.
- The biggest learning, we have from the work we have done is that ASHA workers have a lot of work. They help in delivering a lot of national health programmes in India like HIV, Malaria, Dengue, to name a few. I think, we need to add more ASHA workers in our system and government should seriously think about it so that there is lesser load on one ASHA worker.
- Lastly, I feel, if there would have been no ASHA and Aganwadi workers in India, then it would have been a very difficult, rather impossible task to deliver healthcare to the last mile.
6. Matilda Kullu from Gargadbahal, Odisha, who has been working as an ASHA worker from past 15 years also joined the show. She is the first ASHA workers whose name has been included in the list of the most powerful Indian women of the well-known magazine Forbes in 2021 for her dedication to her work as an ASHA di. Today, thanks to her constant efforts, the rate of institutional deliveries in her village is 100 per cent, the overall health of the people and children have 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.
Talking about her journey, Matilda said,
- When I started working in 2006, I saw none of the pregnant women in my village were going to hospitals for their check-ups and delivery. They thought giving birth to child at home is far better than giving birth at a hospital. And that was the reason, why in my village infant and maternal mortality rate was very high.
- I started working on this as an ASHA worker and motivated, educated the women. Today, I am proud to say that women in my village prefer institutional births over home.
- I also helped educate their families on the things related to pregnancy like the kind of care expecting mother should get, diet they should follow and why breastmilk should be given the newborn babies and nothing else.
- During COVID, I think ASHA workers were the most affected, as they didn’t think about themselves and their families once. They immediately followed their duty and the things they were asked to deliver. In that fight, many ASHA workers also lost their lives.
- When COVID-19 vaccine came, ASHA workers were the first ones to take it. They didn’t fear about the myths, side effects, they took it, thinking if they will take the vaccine, they will be able to motivate the masses as well.
- Being an ASHA worker is a challenging task, but it feels very nice to see people trusting us. Today, my entire village is like my family and I feel so motivated to help them.
7. Susanta Kumar Nayak, Senior Consultant, Community Process, National Health Mission, Government of Odisha, who has been managing the ASHA programme in the State of Odisha since 2008 spoke about the role ASHA workers play in strengthening the health system at the community level and how Odisha has been picking ASHA workers, upskilling, and motivating them to perform better.
- We pick ASHA workers from their own village or town so that there is a sense of belonging. In a year, we undertake, 10-12 days training to build their knowledge, skills, and competency, which is a very important part. Initially, in India the focus was on maternal and child mortality, now along with that the focus is on non-communicable diseases as well. So, it is very important that ASHA workers are up to date and skilled.
- Incentives are also a very important part, it is very essential to pay the ASHA workers on time and from time to time recognise them for their work on ground. In the state of Odisha, we have the highest number of incentives and we also ensure that there is no backlog in their payment. We also do a lot of awards and recognition – all this is to build an enabling environment so that they stay motivated and continue to sustain their efforts in helping other members of the society.
- All governments should think about the welfare of the ASHA workers. The number of activities is increasing and we need to ensure that our ASHAs are getting paid each month for the kind of work they are doing.
We need to enhance the amount that is fixed right now for ASHAs.
8. Navya Naveli Nanda, Health Tech Entrepreneur & Gender Equality Activist, who has been working on ground with ASHA workers, spoke about how she zeroed in on issues pertaining to women, as her focus area.
- What motivated me to start working on issues related to women’s health and hygiene is basically a small instance. Last year, while working on a healthcare platform – Aara Health that I co-founded, we organised a small workshop with some girls in the age-group 14-20 years on health and hygiene, where we were talking to them about menstruation, about different healthcare practices they should adopt during their menstrual cycle. During that workshop, one of the young girls came to me and shared her story on how she was so surprised to see that her menstrual blood is of colour red. She thought it should be blue because that’s what we all see on televisions on sanitary pad commercials. And that’s just made me realise how big really is the problem, not in just accessing the products but on awareness and education. We are not at all transparent about this process, which mostly all women go through.
- I also think, the role of our ASHA workers is very critical. The way they take the message to every home and help bust myths and superstitions related to women’s health and hygiene is something we can’t ignore. Without them our work is incomplete. We can go in as many localities and locations but at the end it is their dedication and passion for the work that is helping India become swasth.
- Using technology is one of the most powerful tools, not just for the youth but also to bridge the gap between urban and rural areas. In last few years only, see how internet has grown in India. It is being expected that by 2030, India will have around 1.3 billion internet users. There are about 373 million internet users today in rural India – so that really shows the depth and how fast we have grown.
- It is the responsibility of youngsters to take up that role and take charge – using the platforms available and social media to talk about important issues such as women’s health.
9. Nirmala Maipat Koge, ASHA Worker from Amravati Zilla in Maharashtra, explained the work she does and how she fought superstitions in her village and helped people live a healthier life.
- I have been doing this work since 2014. A job of ASHA worker is to provide basic health care at the doorsteps of people. We are neither doctors nor nurses, but we have been given training to bridge the health care gap in places.
- Earlier, people in my village didn’t believe in going to the doctors or hospitals for any treatment. They believed in many superstitions. As an ASHA Di, I went door-to-door and educated my village people on how they can live a Swasth life. Told them about the importance of medication, deliveries in hospital and not home, child immunization and more. Today, I see a change in my people, they are living a healthier life.
10. Dr Hema Divakar, Technical Advisor, Ministry of Maternal Health & Family Welfare, who has dedicated three decades of service for Women’s Health Care and spoke about the need for India to increase the work force of ASHAs.
- In India, if we talk about women’s healthcare alone, we need many more numbers of ASHA workers. Currently, there are 30 million deliveries happening every year and we just have one million of ASHA workers.
- We always say Banega Swasth India when healthy women will be delivering healthy babies. The healthier our next generation will be, healthier will be our nation. So, you see the programming is happening right from the womb of the women and that’s why it is of utmost importance that we focus on the first 1000 days. And for all this, ASHA workers’ role is very crucial as they are the first and direct connect.
- ASHA workers know the women directly, they know all women who are pregnant in their locality – they take care of their health so that they don’t have Anaemia, sugar, Diabetes, BP or face any complication. They are the first person these women reach out to.
- We have to work on building the capacity of ASHA workers, we have to increase their task force, we all have to think in that direction.
11. 28-year-old Masuri Gagrai, works as an ASHA worker for the 1,446 people of Laujora Kalan village of Jharkhand, an Adivasi area.
Masuri who also has been tagged as Nutrition Warrior in her village, explained her achievements and said,
- I was worried about malnutrition in children, even before I started working as an ASHA worker. When I came to the village after marriage, I used to think why my village has such weak kids. Slowly, when I realised these children are suffering from malnutrition, I decided to help them out. I joined the work as an ASHA Di and started educating the families.
- I used to guide their mothers, tell them what food they need to give their children and fight this battle. I told them to grow their own food, grow seasonal fruits and vegetables in their backyard and give that to their children on a daily basis.
- Slowly, the movenent of Poshan Vatika, which meant growing your own food in the backyard gained momentum and people started seeing a difference. They realised, even though they do have food available with them, their children were suffering as they had no education or awareness.
- Today, all the children of the village are swasth and whoever was fighting the battle of malnutrition is also doing fine.
12. Amitabh Bachchan welcomed another ASHA worker in the panel – 42-year-old Deepti Pandey from Uttar Pradesh. During COVID-19, Deepti selflessly took care of a pregnant woman who was tested positive for COVID and developed severe symptoms.
Explaining her dedication towards her work and contributed during the pandemic, she said,
- My motto in life is simple – I want to save as many people as I can. If I am able to save someone’s life, then it makes me really happy.
- I go to villages, do survey – see if any child is sick. I go door-to-door to inquire about people’s health. All this is part of my day-to-day job. I tell women to inform me if their child have watery motion more than thrice a day. I help treat Diarrhoea in my village, which is the most common disease. I also educate villagers about the right way to wash hands.
13. Next, Amitabh Bachchan highlighted another example of selfless dedication of ASHA workers in India and welcomed Ameena Begum from Bengaluru. She has been working in slums of Bengaluru for 12 years as an ASHA worker and believes knowledge is power. She has helped educate all her three children, who today are well settled in their respective lives.
Speaking about her journey and what prompted her to take the decision of working as an ASHA, Ameena Begum said,
- I started my work during Polio programming in India. I used to explain to people about Polio and ensure children take the dose.
- Once Polio was taken care of, I started educating families on child immunisation and importance of institutional deliveries for pregnant women. Initially, none of my villagers had trust in me, but I gained their confidence, helped them understand the basics of healthcare and its importance and today all my village people look up to me, do as I say.
14. Kali Shohe, a graduate from Nagaland’s Dimapur town, who has been working as an Anganwadi worker for the last 12 years also shared her journey as an Aganwadi worker in her village on the show.
- We work really hard, we go door-to-door and take the message of Swasth India and help build a healthier nation. We educate the villagers about all the facilities and schemes that are being provided by the government.
- Not just that, we as Anganwadi workers help monitor the health of children and expecting mothers. We ensure, children stay healthy and are not malnourished. If we find that the child is suffering from malnutrition, we educate their families and mothers; sometimes, we also guide families to hospital.
- I have been working for 12 years in the community, the bonding we have and the trust that we share is very big. They trust me in such a way that whatever advise I give, they follow and do the same. Achieving this wasn’t a piece of cake, but with hardwork, continuous dedication, I have achieved this.
15. Last but not the least, 35-year-old Nisha Choubisa also joined the Independence Day special show. Nisha is working as an ASHA worker from Majawada in the Bhindr Block of In her village, she played a key role in creating awareness about family planning and contraceptives. In the year 2019, her passion and efforts led her to win Nutrition Warrior award at the Outlook Poshan Awards.
Explaining her work and what changes she brought about in her village, she said,
- Earlier, my village people didn’t have any knowledge about family planning and what it means. They had never heard about contraceptives and hence never used thesem
- I explained them how to use and its benefits. Also educated women and men both on the gap between the birth of two children they need to follow.
- Earlier, the subject of family planning, contraceptives, were not discussed this openly, but slowly, with the power of education and awareness, changes have taken place.
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.