Samiksha Pattanaik’s doctoral research looks at the health
experiences and mobile phone usage of India’s ASHA (Accredited
social health activists) workers in the context of the Covid-19
pandemic. India’s ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists)
workers, who are typically rural women engaged to work as
community health activists under the Government of India’s
National Rural Health Mission, experienced a disproportionate
impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, as they were at the forefront of
rural India’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Across rural India, ASHA workers, most of them from marginalised backgrounds, were
mobilised to undertake door-to-door covid-19 screening, distribution of medicines,
monitoring containment zones, as well as educating villagers about vaccines and
the need to take precautions. Yet, most of these workers witnessed risky working
conditions, inadequate compensation, lack of protective gear, harassment, and long
working hours, among other issues.
Despite the disproportionate impact of pandemics on marginalised groups, such as
ASHA workers, pandemic communication generally follows a top-down approach. In
doing so, the voices of these groups are erased or obscured from mainstream discourse,
which further exacerbates the impact of pandemics on them. This top-down approach
is also witnessed on social media, which is now being widely used by the public at large.
All this occurs without much consideration of the varied ways social media is used by
communities that may have alternative understandings of health and technology.
Through a culture-centered approach (CCA), this research work aims to create an entry
point for rural ASHA workers to articulate pandemic communication solutions from
below, rather than being passive recipients of expert-driven solutions disseminated
via digital channels. Through semi-structured interviews, the CCA will enable the
researcher to engage in a dialogue with ASHA workers in order to gain a better
understanding of the meanings they ascribe to Covid-19 within their rural context and
the role mobile phone plays in this process.