New Delhi: 44-year-old Ameena Begum has been working as the Accredited Social Health Activist, popularly known as ASHA in the urban slums of Bengaluru for the last 12 years. She believes knowledge is power and hence works towards educating people on accessing healthcare services and ensuring good health and well-being. As an ASHA worker, she primarily focuses on mothers’ health, family planning, the use of contraception and routine immunisation.
Ameena Begum’s journey in healthcare started in the early 2000s with her stint as a contractual employee. She began working under the shadow of an ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Midwifery). Sharing her journey Ms Begum said,
I started with a salary of Rs. 50 and was involved in conducting surveys. I worked for Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Bengaluru. I also assisted in taking women to hospitals for delivery and supporting the ANM. Over the years, I underwent training to be an ASHA and in 2010, I started working in the rural area.
For a couple of years, Ms Begum worked in rural areas of Bengaluru. Following this, she underwent another round of training and moved to urban slums to provide her services. Elaborating on her work, she said,
I wear my uniform, a pink saree and go door-to-door to conduct surveys and prepare a record of the number of people in each house, children below five years of age, children below two years of age and pregnant women. As ASHA, we issue ‘mother cards’ to pregnant women and ensure they visit the hospital for regular check-ups during pregnancy and after childbirth as well. Post pregnancy, we counsel women on how to breastfeed, when to feed the child and how a mother should take care of herself and her diet. If in case, an underweight child is born, they need extra care. Our aim is to reduce mother-child death and it has definitely come down over the years.
Ms Begum also focuses on family planning. She has data on couples between the age of 18 and 45 and educates them on topics like maintaining at least three years of gap between the birth of two children, and the use of contraception. She also looks into child immunisation.
Under the National Health Mission of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, ASHAs work as an interface between the community and the public health system. They support the healthcare system in every aspect. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they played a crucial role by going door-to-door to conduct surveys and enable people with the right information regarding the pandemic and COVID protocols. Ms Begum was also in the frontlines.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people wouldn’t give their full details like if anyone has come from a city or is sick in the family. We would explain to them that it is for their benefit. It was tough to motivate people to take the vaccine. There was a misconception that one can die of vaccination. People would come to me and say, will you take the guarantee of our life? I discussed their apprehensions and talked them out of the myths. Eventually, people took both the doses and booster dose as well.
When asked about what keeps her going and pushes her to be on the field every day, Ms Begum said, it is the impact of her work on the lives of people. She said,
Money doesn’t matter. It’s the respect that I get from people for my work.
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.