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The plight of Health Care Workers in India amidst the Pandemic

As most of the people sit in the comfort of their homes, there are thousands trying to save the day by risking their lives daily. The front-line workers like doctors, mental health practitioners, sanitation workers and pharmacists have given up their own luxury to contain the corona-virus. They are the ones who are most exposed to the virus since their interaction with people is on a daily basis. While many television advertisements, army salutes and public appreciation is on a rise, they are undervalued, underpaid and exposed to the virus due to the lack of safety kits, that is, the Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs).

Shortage of safety gear has forced doctors to use raincoats and motorbike helmets to protect themselves against the virus. The plight of doctors in the pandemic has cast a light on a dilapidated and

overburdened public healthcare system that has been starved of funds and requires an

overhaul. India spends about 1.3% of its GDP on public health, which is among the lowest in

the world. The overburdened public healthcare system is in response to the ever rising cases

in India. Doctors in Mumbai have gone on strike as a sign of protest against the

overburdening of hospitals and disrespect towards the workers. Imagine having no doctors in

hospitals amidst a pandemic!

The most ignored categories of front-line warriors are sanitation workers and Accredited

Social Health Activists (ASHA). ASHA is the first point of call for any health-related

demands and concerns of rural and now even urban India. For little remuneration, they carry

out the enormous task of bringing the inaccessible public health system closer to the

disempowered community by facilitating awareness on healthcare-related information and

improving utilisation of existing government schemes and services. The ASHA workers are

responsible for conducting door-to-door visits, report symptomatic cases, carry out contact

tracing, maintain documentation and create awareness about Covid-19 in the community.

Everyday interaction with the community exposes them to the risk and this is done without

masks and gloves. They have been using their shawls, handkerchiefs and lowly masks to

protect themselves. NDTV reported, "They give us one mask and tell us to use it for 10 days", as told by Farhana, an ASHA worker.

ASHA workers on strike

About 6 lakh ASHA workers are going on a strike from August 7, to draw attention to

their plight. Union leaders believe more may join as word spreads. They demand a timely pay

and a legal status that ensures minimum wages, to sustain their work of helping Indian

officials track down high-risk contacts of COVID-19 patients across slums and hard-to-reach

rural parts of the country. Currently, they work from 7 am to 5 pm without PPE kits and

masks and only get rupees 2000/- a month. In Karnataka, the ASHA workers held a state-

wide protest demanding ₹ 12,000 fixed salaries, PPE kits and assurance that the state

government would take care of their family's health needs. The loss of ASHA workers and

this strike would mean a major step back in the fight against coronavirus and would also

impact other healthcare services. They are the ones primarily doing the groundwork to

contain the virus.

Now, the question arises, who is to be blamed? Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government

said India was trying to get personal protective equipment in bulk domestically and from

South Korea to meet the shortages. More than a dozen doctors battling the outbreak, which

has so far infected 1,251 people and killed 32, told Reuters they were concerned that without

this proper gear, they could become carriers of the disease.

The concerned authorities must act on this to protect the frontline workers as a priority.

“We have to maintain so many documents for a measly sum which is also never on time. The

government has no place for us in its heart“, said an ASHA worker.

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