How female health workers took India’s Covid vaccination program to remote corners | VIEWS

The secret in a sense to India’s Covid-19 vaccination program, which is celebrating its first anniversary after delivering more than 1.5 billion doses of the vaccine, are the basic health workers.

It is not yet widely recognized that these female health care providers working in remote villages and hamlets were at the forefront of controlling the pandemic and ensuring that its worst effects would not linger. The role of Accredited Social Activist Health (Asha) workers is worth highlighting even as India grapples with the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

These frontline rural health workers provide primary health care and health information across the country, and there are approximately one million of them. They are often the first port of call and first responders to emergencies in rural communities.

Summary | The vaccination campaign against Covid-19 in India, one year later

When the pandemic hit the country, they were immediately propelled into action, directly on the front line to fight the spread of the pandemic.

Often dressed in pink, which clearly distinguishes them for identification, these women crossed India far and wide. They traveled to places where other more traditional medical services were not immediately available or would take too long to mobilize. They ensure that information on the need for vaccinations, information on other methods of combating Covid-19 and, most importantly, the vaccines themselves are provided at the very doorstep of residents. It doesn’t matter if they are in a dense jungle or on a distant mountain.

Carrying boxes of vaccines, these women climbed hills and traversed woods, crossed rivers and streams and braved extreme weather conditions to provide last-mile connectivity unique in every way.

The most inaccessible tribal villages and islands saw the presence of Asha workers, who sometimes even rowed themselves (as in one case in Rajasthan), to reach places where the vaccine would not have reached otherwise.

In carrying out their duty, often at the risk of their lives, these women encountered not only rough terrain, but also unfavorable public opinion. Especially in the early days of vaccination, public opinion in many places was poisoned by wrong or malicious information. Sometimes it has even been propagated for nefarious reasons by high-profile influencers who spread vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.

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It was Asha workers who were on the front line convincing people in the smallest and most remote places in India that the best way to fight the Covid-19 pandemic was to take the vaccine. Their work is a global case study in how to use language and communication to build trust, even among communities where levels of education may be low and access to information sketchy.

By speaking to such groups, sometimes visiting the same community again and again to win over opponents, Asha workers have played an invaluable role in combating vaccine hesitancy.

This is why India has not seen the kind of mass protests against vaccination that some parts of the West are experiencing. There is little mass mobilization against vaccination in India. The role of Asha workers in ensuring doubts and hesitations about vaccines are countered with authenticated information, and their own persistent and encouraging presence, has made a huge difference.

In conservative communities where women might have less access to information and administration of vaccines if it were only provided by men, the presence of these female health workers made all the difference.

They brought much-needed gender parity and highlighted how transformative women’s grassroots work can be during widespread health crises. In many ways, their work is reminiscent of the kind of role played by Sister Nivedita to take a leading example from Indian history and her female volunteers in the fight against the plague in Calcutta.

India’s mass vaccination program is therefore unique not only because of its scale and effectiveness, but one of its less commented on aspects is the role women have played in ensuring its reach and success.

By breaking taboos and hesitations, by reaching places that seemed inaccessible, by countering misinformation, gossip and malicious propaganda, these workers have played an exemplary role in the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines in the world’s largest democracy. .

This work is not yet complete and it is important to remember that even as India marks one year of its vaccine delivery efforts, in many areas it is these female health workers who continue to be its cheerful, positive and confident face every day.

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