WHO honours ASHAs, oppn leaders say ASHAs deserve better wage, working conditions

UNITED NATIONS/GENEVA, 23 May: India’s more than one million accredited social health activists (ASHA) deliver hope to people and play a critical role in the country’s primary healthcare system, including during the Covid-19 pandemic, WHO Chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said as he honoured them with a prestigious leaders’ award.

The female ASHAs in India have been honoured by the WHO for their crucial role in linking the community with the health system to ensure that those living in rural poverty can access primary healthcare services, as shown throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Ghebreyesus announced the honourees of the Global Health Leaders Awards on Sunday to recognise outstanding contributions to advancing global health, demonstrated leadership and commitment to regional health issues. Ghebreyesus himself decides on the awardees for the WHO Director-General’s Global Health Leaders Awards.

While presenting the award to the ASHAs, he said that India’s more than one million ASHA are being awarded for their work to connect people with health services.

“In Hindi, ASHA means hope. And that is exactly what the ASHAs deliver,” he said.

First secretary from the permanent mission of India in Geneva, Seema Pujani, received the award.

ASHAs are trained female volunteers who take health services to rural, marginalised and hard-to-reach communities across India.

The eight volunteer polio workers in Afghanistan who were shot and killed by armed gunmen in Takhar and Kunduz provinces in Afghanistan in February this year were also honoured.

The polio workers were Mohamamd Zubair Khalazai, Najibullah Kosha, Shadab Yosufi, Shareefullah Hemati, Haseeba Omari, Khadija Attaee, Munira Hakimi and Robina Yosufi and her brother Shadab. The eight volunteers, four of whom were women, were reaching thousands of children through house-to-house campaigns in northeastern Afghanistan.

The WHO said that their work was crucial in a country where wild polio virus type 1 is still circulating.

Meanwhile, in India, after the WHO honoured the ASHAs, a host of opposition leaders hailed their contributions in the healthcare sector and said that the government must ensure better wages and working conditions for them.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the award recognises their selfless service and the government must ensure better wages to them. “ASHAs are the pride of the country and they deserve a life of dignity,” he said.

“India’s 10-lakh strong all-women ASHAs are our pride. WHO’s award recognises their selfless service. This visionary initiative of UPA from 2005 is the lifeline of our health infra. GoI must ensure better wages and work conditions. ASHA workers deserve a life of dignity,” Gandhi said on Twitter.

CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the government must take immediate steps to “end their ill-treatment,” while Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said that the WHO honour for the ASHAs “is a matter of pride for the entire country.”

“The UPA government had appointed ASHAS to provide health services to the last person in the villages and fields. At the time of Corona, the ASHAs did this work in an unprecedented manner, without worrying about themselves,” she said in a tweet in Hindi. (PTI)