Who: Matilda Kullu
Category: Distress Relief
What: Matilda Kullu has worked as an ASHA worker for the past 15 years
Why: For contributing to the change in healthcare condition of her village by working as an ASHA worker
Matilda Kullu is an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) for the past 15 years. Working all these years in her village Gargadbahal in Odisha’s Sundargarh district, she has witnessed a great change in the health system in her village. But the journey was far from easy. From educating people on a topic as basic as why it is important to go to a hospital to raising awareness on such a hushed disease as HIV AIDS, this ASHA worker saw a lot. “I wished someone would write about the struggles of ASHA workers,” Matilda told Onlymyhealth. Who knew that she would herself become the face of struggle? Matilda Kullu made it to Forbes’ list of India W-Power 2021 alongside former SBI chief Arundhati Bhattacharya, environmentalist Disha Ravi, and hockey star Rani Rampal, among others.
Further celebrating her work, Onlymyhealth nominates ASHA worker Matilda Kullu for our ‘Healthcare Heroes Awards 2021’ in the ‘Distress Relief’ category. This is her story:
Starting As An ASHA Worker
Matilda Kullu owned a small tailoring shop in her village Gargadbahal. However, she needed more money for sustenance. So, when the post of ASHA workers was introduced under the Centre’s National Rural Health Mission, 2005, she decided to join, and hence became an ASHA worker, a single social health worker working in multiple villages.
“In the beginning, ASHA workers’ work was full of struggles,” she told Onlymyhealth. They educated the rural folk on why it’s important to go to the hospital. It was also a time when the child and maternal mortality rates were very high. Hence, it was another task to raise awareness of the importance of institutional delivery. And the efforts of Matilda and several other ASHA and healthcare workers bore fruits. The maternal mortality rate (MMR) in Odisha that was as high as 303 in 2004-2006 came down to 150 in 2016-18.
“I wished that someone would write on the difficulties faced by ASHA workers in changing the healthcare system in rural landscapes,” she said. And her wish was granted as she made it to the Forbes’ India W-Power 2021 list. “I had hoped that for all the struggles that I went through and the hard work that I did, I will get something, but getting so much was not something that I expected,” she said smilingly.
Work During Pre-COVID Times
In 2005, Matilda covered several villages, but as the number of ASHA workers rose, she now works in a single village. Other than her work among pregnant women, she also educated people on tuberculosis (TB), leprosy, HIV AIDS, etc, which are all serious illnesses that have plagued India for a long time. And for spreading awareness, the ASHA workers are given proper training, from how to meet people to how to interact with them so that they would understand the issue at hand.
Matilda Kullu’s Work During COVID Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is one such event that completely shook India’s healthcare system. “Earlier, we knew nothing about it,” Matilda said about the initial COVID outbreak. After getting trained, spreading awareness was the next thing she had to do. She was tasked with educating people on COVID symptoms, surveying those who displayed symptoms, keeping a track of those who arrived from outside the village, where they were staying and if they had any symptoms. If someone tested positive, the ASHA workers were also tasked with contact tracing, and taking to the hospital if a person’s condition deteriorated. Giving strength to people that ‘everything will be alright’ wasn’t what her role required, but it was something that Matilda did. And while working, she also had to face some angry villagers, who got furious when she told them to get tested or isolate.
Work During COVID Vaccination Drive
The ASHA workers also played a pivotal role in India’s COVID vaccination drive, which began in January 2021. After getting the first dose, encouraging those over the age of 60 to get vaccinated was what Matilda had to do. “Many people don’t take care of the elderly as they think that they would die one day or the other,” she said. Hence, Matilda had to make them understand why the government had prioritized their vaccination.
People were also discouraged over cases of COVID vaccine-related deaths and the side effects. “I told them to look at me who was completely alright after taking the vaccine,” Matilda said. In one of the villages where she went, the villagers hid out of fear regarding the vaccine, the ASHA worker said. Then some couldn’t go to the vaccination centres, hence, Matilda had to go to their homes to get them jabbed. The efforts bore fruits as every person who is 18+ has received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine in her village and many are fully vaccinated. Not only that, just three are left in the 15-18 age group who remain unvaccinated, she said. “The other day, people came enquiring about the booster dose,” Matilda said. “This makes me so happy that people are understanding the importance of getting vaccinated,” she added.
Working in such proximity with people during the COVID pandemic isn’t bereft of dangers. Matilda too got infected on May 2, last year. Although self-isolating at home, her oxygen level dipped one day. Gladly, she recovered quickly at home itself. And just 20 days later, on May 23, she resumed fieldwork, with all her energy and dedication.
As an ASHA worker, Matilda Kullu has contributed immensely not just to the healthcare system but to society too. And for her immense dedication and hard work, Onlymyhealth gives a big shoutout to her. And if you too wish for her work to be recognised, then don’t miss out on this opportunity and go vote for her.