New Delhi: ASHA Sangini (Facilitator) Saraswati Shukla has a record of zero miscarriages in her seven-year career, assisting births in the Sarsa Gram Sabha in Bahraich district of Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s most underdeveloped areas. However, Saraswati’s zero miscarriage record came under a severe strain three years ago, during the birth of Ayushman, the son of a migrant worker, Prem Narain and homemaker Khushboo Kumari. With the support of ASHA Sangini, Ms Kumari underwent a caesarian delivery just in the nick of time, after losing a lot of blood.
Ayushman is now a healthy and mischievous three-year-old boy, all thanks to Saraswati Shukla, who played a major role in his birth. Recalling the challenges, the ASHA facilitator faced and navigated through, Saraswati Shukla said,
The sub-centre refused to carry out Khushboo’s delivery saying she has blood deficiency. The next hospital we went to also refused to attend to the patient. Following this, we took her to the district hospital where blood donors were required. I was with Khushboo throughout the process.
Khushboo gave birth to a baby boy, but he was born blue, still and was having trouble breathing. The child was immediately rushed to a private hospital for immediate and better treatment. The misery did not end there for the new mother, who had money worth two days of medicines.
Khushboo’s mother-in-law offered to sell her jewels to arrange for the money for the child’s treatment but it didn’t seem right. Therefore, I connected Khushboo with government schemes and got the child admitted into the new-born intensive care unit (NICU) where he spent 25 days, said Saraswati Shukla.
Thanking the ASHA Sangini for her constant support, Khushboo said,
My husband was in Jalandhar at the time of delivery while I and my mother-in-law were back at home. Saraswati Ji went along with me to all hospitals and ensured I was attended to. Without her assistance, it would have been tough for me.
ASHA Sanginis or ASHA Facilitators are the main vehicle of monitoring, supportive supervision and on-site assistance for the ASHA. The facilitator serves as the link between the ASHA and the support structure at the block level for the community programmes. As an ASHA Sangini, Saraswati Shukla takes various healthcare programmes and services of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to rural India and ensures everyone has access to health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ASHA workers and facilitators were a part of the frontline brigade and carried out government-mandated surveys for contact tracing and identifying migrants who returned home. But the work during COVID came with discrimination attached to it.
Recalling how she was ostracised, Saraswati Shukla said,
People used to stay away from me fearing they would get COVID. I faced a lot of stigma, not only from society but also from my family. When I would return home, angry family members would remove my cot. They wouldn’t let me sit or pass through the door. Nevertheless, I felt that even if I have the support of 10 villagers, I could afford to lose the support of my family, because the villagers had become my own. I did home visits during COVID, took pregnant women to labour rooms and ensured timely deliveries.
Like Saraswati Shukla, there are countless ASHA facilitators and workers, who work day in and day out to ensure good health and well-being of the people in India’s rural areas.
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.