The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has brought the whole world to a standstill. Due to an exponential rise in the number of cases and the expected fear of community spread, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30. With millions of lives at stake, the emergence and spread of the disease required the entire world to reinvent the wheel and join hands for a coordinated international response against the deadly virus. While some countries firmly opted for a complete nationwide lockdown, others followed the herd immunity approach and went for a partial lockdown. In response, a pan India lockdown was imposed by the government on March 24, 2020.
With businesses shut and supply chain disrupted, the lockdown had a major impact on the livelihoods of the daily wagers, who struggled to make their ends meet. While many of the government’s welfare schemes and outreach programmes got affected, the Anganwadi Workers (AWWs) in the district of Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan, have ensured that the healthcare and nutrition of the community don’t take a backseat during these testing times. An AWW is a community frontline worker, employed by Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) with the task of maternal and child care. ICDS was established by the govt. in 1975 to address the issue of malnutrition among vulnerable women and children under the age of six years. It provides a package of six services through its centres, called the Anganwadi centres (AWCs) run by an AWW and a helper (ICDS, 2009).
As the AWCs were shut due to the lockdown, the services initially delivered through the centers had to be reorganized. Since then, the AWWs have been on their toes to deliver the essential health and nutrition services at the doorstep of the beneficiaries. On the nutrition front, as a substitute to the Take Home Ration (Poshahar) prepared by the Self Help Groups, dry ration such as Wheat and Chana Dal were distributed to the people. While wheat was procured from schools catering to mid-day meals, Chana Dal was acquired from fair price shops operated by Public Distribution System (PDS). Even with the supply chain network upended, the AWWs single-handedly managed to procure, package, transport, and distribute the ration to the beneficiaries. In this journey, despite various challenges such as shortage of adequate ration, halted transport services, shortage of hard cash, etc., the indomitable spirit of these workers helped them pave their way through, to reach out to the beneficiaries. On the health front, the AWWs together with the Accredited Social Health activists (ASHAs), stayed in touch with the people via telephone and Whatsapp to deliver information regarding their scheduled health check-ups and immunization services at the nearest District Hospital/PHC/CHC along with their subsequent follow-ups.
Apart from fulfilling their usual roster of duties, the AWWs have also been at the forefront in discharging their social responsibility in lieu of COVID-19. Along with the demonstration of right hand-washing techniques using mnemonic SUMAN-K (Seedha, Ulta, Mutthi, Anghuta, Nakhoon, Kalai), the workers have given extra efforts in making people realize the escalated importance of wearing a mask, cleanliness, and hygiene in current times. They also worked in coordination with SHGs to distribute hand-made masks to those in need.
Additionally, with thousands of migrants returning home, around 1450 AWWs, 190 Helpers and 365 ASHA workers were engaged to be a part of the district task force against COVID-19 to undertake door-to-door screening of the entire district population. The workers helped the district administration in recording people’s travel history, noting their symptoms, asking them to stay in isolation for 14 days, reporting suspected COVID cases, and assisting district and local administration in tracing contacts. Subsequently, they also paid a visit to the respective quarantined household, and informed them of the necessary precautions to be taken and rules to be followed. Since the workers have a stronghold in the community especially in their respective wards, it further helped in efficient enforcement and compliance of lockdown regulations among masses.
On being asked about their personal safety, one of the workers said, ‘it is my duty to serve the people as we are the only point of contact between them and the government. If we don’t step forward, then who will? Besides, we take all the necessary precautions to keep ourselves and the people around us safe.’ Therefore, undeterred by the threat of catching the deadly virus, the Anganwadi workers have not only acted as eyes and ears of the administration on the ground to fight the disease but also worked in tandem with the community in keeping up with their nutrition and health requirements.
(The author is a District Lead under POSHAN Abhiyaan as part of TATA Trusts)