No fixed salary for health workers: Centre

The Centre has made it clear that given the financial crunch in the country, demand for a fixed monthly salary raised by Accredited Social Healthcare Activists (Ashas) cannot be met.
Vikas Sheel, joint secretary, policy, Union ministry of health and family welfare department, on Monday said the government has no plans to introduce a fixed salary for these health workers.

“It’s a critical issue. As of now, there is no solution. Asha programme is designed to be incentive-based. It’s a volunteering job. The state government can take a decision to pay them more from its own resources, as it’s done in Andhra Pradesh, which pays them Rs 10,000 a month,” Sheel said, while answering a question about frequent protests by Ashas demanding fixed monthly salary.

Over 44,000 Asha workers in Karnataka have been demanding a fixed pay of Rs 12,000. They currently get Rs 4,000 from the state government per month, apart from performance-based incentives. In the last one year, these activists have staged 350 protests across the state to make their voices heard. This includes three mega protests staged in Bengaluru.
Sheel, who is on a two-day visit to Bengaluru, admitted that these workers play a pivotal role in implementation of various health programmes, including TB identification, immunisation, antenatal check-up and delivery by pregnant women.
Sheel said women working as Ashas must volunteer to do the job. “Incentives paid to them are task-based. It’s not envisaged to pay salaries to them. It’s not a full-time job. They are trained to create demand for health services. It’s a completely volunteering programme,” said Sheel.
The latest protest by Ashas was on January 3, when they gathered at Freedom Park seeking the release of incentives pending for 15 months. The amount was released only after the protest.
Explaining the National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme that aims to make India TB free by 2025, Sheel said a major challenge was patients failing to complete treatment. “When the symptoms disappear, many patients stop taking drugs. A false sense of security and side-effects of drugs make many stop taking treatment. Every TB patient has to complete the total treatment regimen, which can be anywhere between six months and one year,” said Sheel. In 2019, 91,318 cases of TB were detected in Karnataka. “The last TB prevalence survey was done in 1956. The new survey is being done now,” he added.

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