Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) — one of the key components of the National Rural Health Mission — played a crucial role in a combat against novel coronavirus in Uttar Pradesh by tracing 30.43 lakh migrant returnees.
ASHA workers supported the Uttar Pradesh government in the COVID-19 management at a time when lakhs of migrant workers started moving to the state from different cities after losing jobs due to the nationwide lockdown after March 25.
During the crisis, when every state was combating with the disease to contain its spread, Uttar Pradesh government pushed its ASHA workers to trace the migrant returnees so that they could be quarantined to avoid possible infection to others in case they are found COVID-19 positive
As per the Union Health Ministry data, 1.6 lakh ASHAs have tracked over nearly 30.43 lakh migrant returnees in two phases — 11.24 lakh in the first and 19.19 lakh in the second phase — in a gigantic exercise in Uttar Pradesh, which so far has reported 22,828 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 672 deaths as per the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHF) data.
The ASHA workers assisted in contact tracing and community level surveillance. They not only identified 7,965 persons with symptoms, but also regularly followed up on their health status.
These workers have facilitated sample collection from 2,232 returnees of which 203 were found to be positive and were referred to COVID health care services.
They came in contact with the ‘Nigrani Samitis’ (vigilance committee) — a committee formed in all the villages under the Gram Pradhan (village head) — and collected details of the migrants in the villages. These committees in turn helped the ASHA workers with the follow up on the migrants.
Suresh Kumar, a 20-year-old native of Bahraich (Huzoorpur Block, Nibuhi Kala village), worked at a juice shop in Mumbai city. He returned home along with other migrant workers in a truck in early May after travelling for five days.
As soon as Suresh reached home, a local ASHA worker, Chandra Prabha, met him and recorded his details. She informed the Rapid Response Team (RRT) of district Bahraich, which advised Suresh to quarantine himself at home.
Prabha also counselled the family members and explained in detail the steps to be taken during home quarantine. She undertook regular followup visits and kept in touch with the family.
Alertness, motivational skills and support of the ASHA worker ensured that as soon as Suresh began experiencing symptoms, he was sent to the Community Health Centre, Chitaura, which is also a designated COVID Care facility. Prabha also ensured that Suresh’s family members and his fellow migrants were referred for COVID testing.
With the surge in the cases of COVID-19 in the country and the influx of migrant population from hotspot areas, one of the major challenges in Uttar Pradesh was to cater to the healthcare needs of returnees and arrest the spread in its rural population.
Officials in the Health Ministry said that ASHAs have played a critical role in sensitising the communities about the preventive measures to be adopted such as regular hand washing with soap and water, the importance of wearing masks when out in public spaces, and maintaining adequate physical distancing.
As a result of their efforts, the officials said, there has been an enhanced awareness about essential and non-essential healthcare services and how to access these.
As per the health ministry, these ASHAs are provided basic protective gear like masks and soap or sanitizers as they go about their duties.
ASHAs have assisted the Panchayati Raj Department in the development of the community quarantine centres, in buildings like Anganwadi centres and primary schools. They have also ensured adoption of the Aarogya Setu app at the community level through awareness generation and supporting in its installation.
“The contribution of ASHAs in non-COVID essential services have been exemplary. At the Ayushman Bharat – Health and Wellness Centres, ASHAs are contributing in conducting line listing of all individuals, risk assessment and mobilisation for screening for chronic illness like Hypertension, Diabetes, three cancers (oral, breast and cervical cancers), TB and Leprosy,” the Ministry said in a statement.
These ASHA workers have also been instrumental in providing Reproductive Maternal Neonatal and Child Health (RMNCH) services which were directly affected by the lockdown measures and the necessity of maintaining physical distancing.
They have created awareness about the availability of these services and helped people to access them.
The National Health Mission supports nearly 10 lakh ASHAs in rural and urban areas of most parts of the country, the Ministry said, adding that nearly one-sixth (1.67 lakh) are from Uttar Pradesh.