On Friday, even as India reported a record daily jump in infections, taking its total number of cases over two million, the government struggled to contain the spread amid striking health workers.
More than 3.5 million health workers, who have been the foot-soldiers in the Covid-19 detection efforts across India, embarked on a two-day strike from Friday to secure better wages and proper protective equipment.
“At least 100 health workers have died of Covid-19 in the country so far, but there has been no insurance provided to them by the government,” said A.R. Sindhu, secretary of the Centre of Trade Unions, a key participant in the ongoing strike.
Accredited Social Health Activists or ASHA workers, are the government’s recognised health workers who are usually the first point of contact in economically deprived sections, where there is limited or no direct access to health-care facilities.
They have been conducting door-to-door checks to trace Covid-19 patients.
A total of 10 unions representing the workers, who also include ambulance drivers and cooks at community centers, joined the strike. A majority of them work on contracts with state governments at a monthly salary of about Rs 3,000 ($40.02).
“In some places, we had a lot of difficulty reaching households, especially in the mountainous regions… Households would be very far apart and we had to get to each of them on foot,” Nagalakshmi. D, a union leader of ASHA workers in the southern state of Karnataka told Reuters.
“During rains, we had to cross rivers by boat and rope bridges too,” she said.
India is the third nation to pass the unwanted milestone of two million Covid-19 cases, lagging behind only the United States and Brazil.
India has been posting an average of around 50,000 new cases a day since mid-June, but experts say its testing rate at 16,035 per million people is far too low.