Who are CHWs?
Community health workers (CHWs) have been a part of primary health programs since several decades in countries across the world. They work largely in health programs for rural poor, marginalised, distant and slum communities. CHWs are largely women with some level of formal education and they carry out various health programs. They work for non - government and government programs. Each woman CHW is selected from her own village, trained, equipped and supervised by the government / NGO she works for and is paid some honorarium by them.
India has a long history of community health worker programs in both the non- government and government sectors. Within the government sector India has two large scale CHW programs:
The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) has 2.7 million women Anganwadi workers and Anganwadi helpers. It functions under the Ministry if Women and Health.
The Accredited Social Health Activist (Asha) program has about one million women Ashas in villages and slums. It functions under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The Asha program began in 2005 and has grown at a phenomenal pace. These Asha workers are selected and trained by the local Primary Health Centre (PHC) in conjunction with the government. Each Asha works in her own village and is supervised by the PHC staff. She works for government health programs. She is designated as a volunteer and receives incentives from the government.
That the country consistently maintains and runs such a vast public health workforce over the vast geographical stretch of India is a notable achievement in itself. This program must be further strengthened and the capabilities of the CHWs must be expanded. The professional growth of community health workers is the basis of the health of the majority of the nation’s population residing in villages and slums.