SHILLONG, NOV 13: The Health & Family Welfare department on Monday said that the government is firmly dedicated to the well-being of its frontline healthcare workers and urged the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) workers to sustain their vital services to the community without interruption.
The appeal was made after the ASHA workers decided to go for an indefinite strike from November 7, as a mark of the protest against the government’s apathy towards their demands which include honorarium enhancement.
In a statement, Joint Secretary of the department TG Momin said the department is deeply concerned over the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAS) workers in the State having embarked on a period of ‘rest from work’.
He said, “The Department also underscores the vital importance of sustained cooperation between ASHAs and health systems, urging ASHA Workers to sustain their vital services to our communities without interruption.”
“The Government remains firmly dedicated to the well-being of its frontline healthcare workers and anticipates a pragmatic approach from all of them, acknowledging that meaningful systemic reforms require time and thoughtful deliberation for achieving a shared vision of a healthy community and the State at large,” he added.
Momin said it should be noted that over the past few years, the State has taken up the concerns and İssues raised by ASHA workers with utmost sincerity and dedication.
The development and implementation of the “ASHA First” application for seamless payment of ASHA incentives under National Health Mission (NHM) has played a pivotal role in ensuring that payments are released promptly.
Stating that on average, well-performing ASHAs can even receive incentives ranging from Rs 7000 to Rs 8000 per month, Momin said since its launch in October 2022, the Department has been consistent in disbursing payments, showcasing a commitment to timely and efficient compensation for the invaluable services provided by ASHA workers.
He informed that an amount of Rs 21.89 Crores has been released through the application in the last 12 months and a total of Rs 34.50 crores has been released in the last 18 months.
Furthermore, pending payments for Meghalaya Maternity Benefit Scheme (MMBS) and Meghalaya ASHA Benefit Scheme (MABS), amounting to Rs 53 Crores which were pending since 2013, have been released across the State during the 2021-2022 fiscal, marking a significant milestone.
He said that the State Government is also providing a fixed incentive of Rs 2000 per month to all ASHAs under the State Scheme, recognizing the diverse challenges faced by ASHA workers.
This inclusive approach ensures that even ASHAs covering small villages with limited populations receive reasonable financial incentives.
“Today, many ASHAs receive their payments, even on a weekly basis upon raising the claims through the App,” he said
Further, Momin said in areas that are challenging to access, the State government is also entrusting Village Health Councils (VHCs) to bring in trained community nurses (if available), who can offer valuable nursing skills to the community.
“The proposal for this transition is already underway,” he added.
Reiterating that ASHAs are integral to the delivery of essential healthcare services, Momin said, “Any disruption in their services can have severe consequences for the health and well-being of the community.”
“However, within less than 18 months of the above-mentioned reforms being implemented by the State for its ASHA workers, the recurrent threats for service suspension and strikes by ASHA workers union reflects negatively in the spirit of volunteerism, and disrupts community health services.”
He said instances where such disruptions, particularly during agitation periods, have led to untoward incidents, include a case of maternal death in Ri-Bhoi District during 2022 while adding “Such disruptions in essential health services are inadmissible and can have severe consequences for the communities at large.”
Under the National Health Mission, “ASHAs are envisaged to be community health volunteers and are entitled to task activity based incentives”.
In line with this, and in order to ensure that the health services remain undisrupted, the State Government is also requesting the VHOs to identify suitable community volunteers (who could even be VHC members), who would be interested in volunteering for health facilitating services.
VHCs are also requested to engage their members in facilitating basic health services like connecting the high risk pregnant Women to health facilities, ensuring facilitating support for immunization services during VHNDs in coordination with the Anganwadi VWorkers, referring medical cases to ANMs and MOs, among other basic responsibilities, so as to ensure that health services to the public remain undisrupted.