Community Health Workers at 31st PSI Congress’23 

Community Health Workers from South Asia marked a strong presence at PSI's World Congress where they shared personal stories and struggles to meet the demands of their work. It was also an opportune time to bring the Charter of Demands to a global stage, gather support and build solidarity.

PSI held its 31st World Congress from October 14-18 in Geneva, Switzerland. The theme of the Congress was “In a World of Multiple Crises, People Over Profit”. It was attended by about 1,300 people from across the world, including PSI affiliates from all regions, trade union representatives, activists, and academics who work on labour rights and PSI staff.  

Community Health Workers (CHWs) from South Asia of the Asia Pacific region marked a strong presence at the Congress. They participated in various panel discussions and made insightful interventions. The CHWs also had a booth in the main lobby which garnered substantial attention, fostering interactions between CHWs and other participants.  

The CHW’s shared personal stories and struggles in meeting the demands of their work.  

Gita Devi Thing Paudel, CHW from Nepal & President of Nepal Health Volunteers’ Association (NEVA), spoke at the panel on Health and Care Sector, held on 12 October as part of pre-event activities. She took the participants through the life of a CHW and government’s apathy they face. “We are given a lot of work to do, but no facilities. One CHW serves 3000 people, but her monthly payment is only 4000 Nepali Rupees (roughly Euros 27).” Paudel recounted that her marriage broke because she could hardly spend time at home due to the nature of work. She even lost her brother to Covid-19 due to the paucity of oxygen cylinders. “CHWs walked with sore feet during the pandemic as buses were not plying on the roads. We make so many sacrifices to fulfil our duties. But our governments don’t give us anything in return,” said Paudel. 

Gita Devi Thing Paudel Nepal Health Volunteers’ Association (NEVA)

We are given a lot of work to do, but no facilities. One CHW serves 3,000 people, but her monthly payment is only 4,000 Nepali Rupees (~€27)

She emphasised that ultimately it is unionisation that has helped them attain some victories. Recently, provincial government of the Bagmati Province started to provide free health insurance to CHWs and their families.  

Shamim Ara of Pakistan's All Sindh Lady Health Workers and Employees Union (ASLHWEU) spoke in the panel discussion Climate Workers and Unions on 18 October. She shared first-hand experience of recent devastating floods. She highlighted the role of frontline health workers, responding to disasters and the need for policies to support them. She said that despite important contributions, CHWs’ face challenging work conditions. "Policies should be made with the inclusion of the lady health workers. There should be provisions to protect them from harassment and coercion." 

The Congress offered a unique opportunity to disseminate the Charter of Demands of CHWs in South Asia at the global level. The booth in the pavilion provided that space. It showcased the Charter of Demand in five languages. The booth also had posters, bookmarks and postcards – all aimed at spreading information about the Charter. An added attraction was the wall of solidarity whereby participants could sign a banner showing support for the demands of the CHWs. Hundreds of union leaders, academics, activists, ILO staff and other Congress participants signed the banner. The CHWs and PSI staff who work on the issue, used this opportunity to interact with the global audience, campaign about the demands and collaborate for work in the future.