The Covid pandemic has transformed Padaladuka Asha Rajakumaran’s life. An accredited social health activist (ASHA) worker in Kasargod district, the worst affected in Kerala with 179 of the 499 cases so far, she has seen lives and families upturned and also amazing cases of recovery in the past two months.
Like the rest of the world, Asha had never heard of COVID-19 till about three months back. An ASHA worker in her neighbourhood of Thalangara village, she took the job two years ago. “I was born in a poor family and am only a matriculate. I started working to support my family,” she says. Asha was in two minds initially about taking the job as she was quite shy and the work involved interacting a lot with strangers. “But my husband, who works in Qatar, encouraged me,” she says.
As an ASHA worker, she has been associated with the immunisation programme and the birth control and mother and child healthcare campaigns in the neighbourhood. “In the beginning, it was difficult convincing the Muslim women in the area about the immunisation programme as there was some religious bias. But after constant interactions, I was able to convince them about how critical it was for newborns. Now they trust me,” says Asha.
Kasargod first tested positive for COVID-19 on February 2 and the state health department deployed ASHA workers to track NRIs who had returned to the district from the first week of February. “I started working at the Covid cell tracking NRIs and monitoring home quarantine activities. Later, I was shifted to the help desks at the General Hospital and then at the Kasargod railway station. I also monitored the home quarantined people and their families in my local ward. When I was at the help desk at the General Hospital, 34 infected people were admitted there. All of them have recovered now. It was a challenging time for all of us,” says Asha, recalling the worst days of the pandemic in Kasargod.
COVID-19 has helped her understand life better, she says. “Now people welcome me with a smile and they treat me as a family member. We have created a bond that will last forever.”
Asha admits the past two months have been the most challenging time in her life. “I have a daughter who is seven years old. Sometimes I have had to leave home early and at times return late too. We have been trained to protect ourselves from infection and take precautionary measures while working at the hospital or visiting home quarantined people. But the risk is real, though I never thought too much about it,” she says.
Asha feels Kerala must continue the personal hygiene campaign at all levels. “During the pandemic, people in Kerala followed personal hygiene and social distancing to save the community from infection. Traditionally, we have always maintained high standards of personal hygiene in our lives, like it was the custom to wash one’s hands and feet before entering the house when coming from outside. Covid is a reminder that we have to return to that lifestyle,” Asha points out before taking leave and walking away with hurried steps. Her day is far from over, there is still plenty of work left for her to finish.