Wearing pink saris and armed with notebooks filled with rural vaccination records, a group of women gathered for a review meeting on Tuesday at the recently inaugurated Rui Dharud Public Health Centre on the outskirts of Rui village in Maharashtra’s Beed.
The women are accredited social health activists, or ASHAs, the footsoldiers of the country’s rural health mission and now its pandemic response. Since the vaccination programme began in January, they have been visiting every house in their assigned villages to spread the word. Over 70,000 ASHAs in Maharashtra are also tasked with registering rural communities for vaccination.
At the meeting, 35 ASHAs and eight of their supervisors discussed a common problem: how can they meet their vaccination targets set by health authorities when vaccine hesitancy still runs deep?
“People have read WhatsApp forwards about someone dying after getting vaccinated,” said Ashwini Mhaske, an ASHA supervisor from Dhraud Rural block, which has over 2,500 people in the age group above 45. “This makes them think they will die too.” So far, she said, her team of ASHAs has managed to convince 550 people to get vaccinated.
Another hurdle is an set up in Beed district, which ASHAs are required to use to register a minimum of 10 people a day. Though it was set up to “ease” the vaccination process, many of the ASHAs themselves don’t have smartphones, so accessing the portal is a challenge.
ASHAs across villages in Beed also said they do not receive protective equipment like masks, gloves or PPE kits on a regular basis. Instead, they’re forced to spend their own money from their meagre monthly honorariums, even as the pandemic induced lockdown has left some of them as the sole earners in their families.