Community health workers: challenges and vulnerabilities of Accredited Social Health Activists working in conflict-affected settings in the state of Assam, India

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BMC Health Services Research


Introduction: It is well acknowledged that India’s community health workers known as Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) are the bedrock of its health system. Many ASHAs are currently working in fragile and conflict-affected settings. No efforts have yet been made to understand the challenges and vulnerabilities of these female workers. This paper seeks to address this gap by bringing attention to the situation of ASHAs working in the fragile and conflict settings and how conflict impacts them and their work. Methods: Qualitative fieldwork was undertaken in four conflict-affected villages in two conflict-affected districts -Kokrajhar and Karbi Anglong of Assam state situated in the North-East region of India. Detailed account of four ASHAs serving roughly 4000 people is presented. Data transliterated into English were analysed by authors by developing a codebook using grounded theory and thematic organisation of codes. Results: ASHAs reported facing challenges in ensuring access to health services during and immediately after outbreaks of conflict. They experienced difficulty in arranging transport and breakdown of services at remote health facilities. Their physical safety and security were at risk during episodes of conflict. ASHAs reported hostile attitudes of the communities they served due to the breakdown of social relations, trauma due to displacement, and loss of family members, particularly their husbands. Conclusions: Conflict must be recognised as an important context within which community health workers operate, with greater policy focus and research devoted to understanding and addressing the barriers they face as workers and as persons affected by conflict.



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