ASHA Workers: Recognition frequently goes to people at the top of the hierarchy and remains there. Rarely does credit trickle down to the lowest worker. The World Health Organization’s recognition of India’s ASHA (accredited social health activists) and Afghanistan’s polio workers is an attempt to rectify this injustice. This is an unusual and praiseworthy tip of the hat to the lowest-level employees, and it provides credit where credit is due.
WHO Recognizes ASHA Workers
When WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus revealed the names of six Global Health Leader awardees during the inaugural session of the World Health Assembly, over a million ASHAs and eight volunteer polio workers were counted among those in the vanguard. Paul Farmer, co-founder of the nonprofit organisation Partners in Health, Ahmed Hankir, a British-Lebanese psychiatrist, Ludmila Sofia Oliveira Varela, an advocate for adolescent sports, and Yhei Sasakawa, WHO‘s Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, are the other recipients.
Dr. Tedros, who chooses the honorees himself, stated that the prize recognises those who have made an exceptional contribution to safeguarding and promoting global health at a time when the globe faces an unparalleled confluence of inequity, conflict, food insecurity, climate crisis, and pandemic.
The ASHAs were recognised for their “crucial role in linking the community with the health system to enable access to primary health care services for individuals living in rural poverty.” During the pandemic, these workers, who were all women, were subjected to harassment and violence on the job, as widely reported in the media.
Despite the fact that the epidemic altered the rules, introducing danger where there was previously only routine, it must be emphasised that their profession, which takes them to inaccessible locations and hostile populations, imposes a degree of hardship. Even while they contribute to improved health outcomes, this workforce continues to agitate for greater compensation, health benefits, and permanent positions across the nation.
In February 2022, eight Afghan volunteer polio workers, four of whom were women, were shot and killed by gunmen in the provinces of Takhar and Kunduz. WHO noted that their work was crucial in a country where the type 1 wild poliovirus is still spreading. Clearly, many types of fundamental public health work are laden with danger on multiple continents.
The government entities that employ them are responsible for ensuring their welfare, safety, and security. The Indian government’s treatment of its last-mile health workers, who serve as its “boots on the ground,” is what truly matters, once the dust has settled from the unanticipated recognition of these individuals.