ASHA workers in Kolhapur challenge vaccine hesitancy, misinformation

  • | Tuesday | 18th May, 2021

ASHA workers have been tasked with containing community transmissions in Kolhapur’s villages, but in many cases, they say families withhold information when they have symptoms. This is partly due to the ostracism COVID-19 positive individuals faced during the first wave of the pandemic.

For the past 12 years, Savita Salunkhe has been serving as an ASHA worker in Kolhapur’s Tardal village. This April, when a Tardal resident in her late 70s passed away within four days of taking the COVID-19 vaccine, Savita and her fellow ASHA workers found themselves fighting a virus of a different sort: a narrative had begun to spread within the community, that the “vaccines are killing people”.

When Savita began examining the details of the case, however, she found that the woman had been feverish before taking the shot. The frightened grandmother had refused to eat for two days after receiving the vaccination. Later, her symptoms escalated and she succumbed.

ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers, appointed under the National Rural Health Mission, are women health activists from the same village. A 2019 National Health Mission report states, “A total of 9,70,676 ASHAs are in position against a target of 10,22,661 ASHAs in the present update.” They are tasked with over 50 responsibilities, some of which include vaccination, community health awareness, maintaining records of children, counseling women on pregnancy and birth preparedness, and helping community members access healthcare facilities.

As of 12 May 2021, Kolhapur had reported over 82,763 overall COVID-19 cases, with the number of deceased at 2,840 — a fatality rate of 3.5 percent, the highest in Maharashtra. Thus, Shubhangi Kamble, tasked with monitoring the health of 1,500 people in the district’s Arjunwad village, is relieved that 80 percent of the residents above the age of 45 are now vaccinated.

The misinformation extends to other aspects of COVID-19 as well. ‘If I have a heavy fever which doesn’t go away for a week, only then I should think of getting a test’,” says Shubhangi, of a refrain she commonly encounters during her surveys.


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