“Aren’t we frontline warriors?” asks a community health worker in a webinar that we had organised in May 2020 where grassroots health care workers were at the centre stage sharing their experience of working during COVID-19. This question resonates with several other community health workers who have been braving their lives against all odds to protect the communities against COVID-19. Yet a sense of lack of recognition of their contributions distinctly looms large!
The idea of this compendium arises from the felt need of the community health workers to be heard. It was evident during the webinar that spaces for sharing such experiences are few while opportunities for garnering support and shared learning are many.
We bring stories of twenty health workers who share their everyday experiences of working during COVID-19. These stories emerge from individual telephonic conversations with each one of them between July – November 2020. These stories travel from ten states including Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. We draw these experiences from the cadre of health workers who work at the interface of the community and health system. They range from the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs, also known as Sahiyas in some states), ASHA facilitators (ASHA Saathi/Sahayogini), Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs), Mitanin (community health volunteer) and Mitanin Trainers.
Each experience is unique as it traverses the specific geography, community, family, health system and tells us how COVID-19 itself has unfolded in specific areas. While each story is unique, the commonalities lie in the lessons that reiterate the critical role played by community health workers as ‘frontline soldiers’. Their experiences unveiled several challenges including accountability fault lines but at the same time also indicate opportunities for collaboration, support and strength in fighting the pandemic.