The Health Department has expressed concern over the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in the State having embarked on a period of ‘rest from work’.
In a statement issued today, the department said that over the past few years, it has taken up the concerns and issues raised by ASHA workers with utmost sincerity and dedication.
“It is important to reiterate that ASHAs are integral to the delivery of essential healthcare services. Any disruption in their services can have severe consequences for the health and well-being of the community,” the department said.
Mentioning about the various reforms implemented within less than 18 months by the State for ASHA workers, the Health Department said the “recurrent threats for service suspension and strikes by ASHA workers’ union reflects negatively in the spirit of volunteerism, and disrupts community health services”.
“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. Such disruptions in essential health services are inadmissible and can have severe consequences for the communities at large,” the department added.
The department also underscored 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,” it said.
The department said that 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 to ASHA workers.
“It should be noted that on average, well-performing ASHAs can even receive incentives ranging from Rs 7000 to R. 8000 per month. Since its launch in October 2022, the Health Department has been consistent in disbursing payments, showcasing a commitment to timely and efficient compensation for the invaluable services provided by ASHA workers,” the statement said.
It also informed that an amount of Rs 21.89 crore has been released through the application in the last twelve months and a total of Rs 34.50 crore 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 crore which were pending since 2013, have been released across the State during the 2021-2022 fiscal, marking a significant milestone,” the Health Department said.
It also mentioned that the State government is providing a fixed incentive of Rs 2000 per month to all ASHAs under the State Scheme, recognising the diverse challenges faced by them.
“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,” it added.
Further the department said that under the National Health Mission, “ASHAs are envisaged to be community health volunteers and are entitled to task and 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 Village Health Councils (VHCs) 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 immunisation services during VHNDs in coordination with the Anganwadi workers, referring medical cases to ANMs and MOs, among other basic responsibilities, so as to ensure that health services to the public remain undisrupted,” it said.
Stating that in areas that are challenging to access, the State government is also entrusting (VHCs to bring in trained community nurses (if available), who can offer valuable nursing skills to the community, the department said that the proposal for this transition is already underway.