‘Watching Our Mother, an ASHA Worker, Has Taught Us to Be Good Humans’
Uma Devi is a frontline healthcare worker in rural Uttar Pradesh who has marched on despite strife in her personal life, and has been honoured by Kareena Kapoor, actor and brand ambassador for UNICEF, for promoting mother and child health.
Ramji Mishra 26 Oct 2023 2:13 PM GMT
Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh
Almost every household in the Rarua village has a story to share about Uma ‘didi’. The 47-year-old health worker on her part wears the love lightly.
Uma Devi is an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) who is responsible for the overall wellbeing of the villagers and for ensuring that the government’s health schemes reach them.
“I have a responsibility towards them. There are no doctors in the villages. In such a situation, ASHA workers like me have to be vigilant,” Uma Devi, who has been an ASHA for 17 years, told Gaon Connection.
For her contribution towards promoting rural healthcare, in 2018, she was honoured by Kareena Kapoor, Bollywood actor and brand ambassador for UNICEF (United Nations Children Emergency Fund). The honour was part of UNICEF's global signature campaign ‘EveryChildALIVE’ for affordable, quality healthcare solutions for every mother and newborn.
But what many do not know is that Uma Devi has marched on despite strife in her personal life. Her husband developed a problem in his legs, he underwent surgery and Devi had to nurse her younger son who was detected with cancer.
Despite the challenges at her home front and the ups and downs in her personal health, she never shied away from her duties as an ASHA.
Uma Devi has saved the lives of dozens of infants, mothers and elderly people by linking them to the health centres in the vicinity. The closest health centre from her village is about 20 kilometres away in Khutar block headquarters.
“Whenever we have a medical emergency, it is Uma didi to the rescue. Be it childbirth, some accident or fever, Uma didi is someone we trust more than any doctor. She calls up the nearest health centre and makes arrangements so that minimal time is wasted after a patient reaches the health facility,” Mahesh Singh, a 35-year-old resident of Rarua village, told Gaon Connection.
Uma Devi remembers a time when a newborn refused to drink milk, and needed immediate medical support. But as there was some festival that day, the elders were not letting the mother leave home that day.
“I had to talk to them and reason with them to let the mother take the baby to the hospital, ensuring all the while that their religious sentiments were not hurt. ASHAs have to deal with such challenges all the time,” she said.
Fortunately, the little baby is today a sturdy five-year-old getting ready to join the local primary school.
Uma Devi is in charge of three health sub-centres in Shahjahanpur — Navadiya Navajpur, Tulapur, and Navdiya Darodga.
“She rarely gets more than three hours of sleep, between the erratic nature of her duties as an ASHA and looking after her family,” Shailendra Trivedi, her husband who works at a chemist shop near the Community Health Centre in Khutar block, told Gaon Connection.
“When my brother was admitted at a hospital in Lucknow for cancer treatment, my mother would visit him and then rush back to her duties,” Anuj Trivedi, Uma Devi’s first born, told Gaon Connection.
Fortunately his brother recovered, but lost an eye. “However, watching our mother growing up has taught us to be good humans and helpful to others,” said Anuj.
In 2019, after receiving the honour from UNICEF, the district administration promoted Uma Devi to the rank of an ASHA Sangini. Today, 21 ASHAs report to her.
“It was a matter of pride for me that I was made to look after 21 ASHAs. It was the brightest moment of my life,” she said.
Uma Devi is an inspiration to her colleagues. “She does her duty diligently and is always on time. I get to learn a lot from her vast experience in rural healthcare. She not only does her job well but also trains other ASHA workers,” Mamata Verma, who is an auxiliary nurse midwife, told Gaon Connection.
However, there are concerns around the honorarium that is paid to ASHA workers. Presently, ASHA workers are paid up to Rs 4,500 in a month while an ASHA Sangini earns Rs 6,000 on a monthly basis.
“It is unfair how little ASHA workers like Uma Devi are paid. I have watched how hard she works and without healthcare workers like her, rural inhabitants would be at a loss to access healthcare,” Shiv Shankar Shukla, an advocate who lives in the same village as Uma Devi, told Gaon Connection. They should be compensated far better for their service, he felt.
Last year, in 2022, ASHAs were among the six recipients of the WHO Director-General’s Global Health Leaders Award. They had been recognised for their outstanding contribution towards protecting and promoting health. The award ceremony was part of the live-streamed high-level opening session of the 75th World Health Assembly on 22 May 2022.