Working in international development involves learning lots of abbreviations and acronyms!

Asha is a Hindi word meaning hope, but we also know it as an acronym for Accredited Social Health Activist in India.

One of the key components of India’s National Rural Health Mission is to provide every village in the country with a trained female community health activist. ASHAs are selected from the village itself through a rigorous process involving community groups, the village health committee and local government officers. They receive training to learn the necessary skills and gain knowledge.

By the end of March 2015, nearly 908,000 ASHAs had been recruited. They are the first port of call for any health-related needs of the poorer people in the community, especially women and children, who find it difficult to access health services.

We work with ASHAs and other healthcare workers to create awareness of the symptoms of leprosy, lymphatic filariasis and other diseases and to encourage people to seek a diagnosis. They are also involved with promotion of good health practices and provide information on the services available.

Leprosy services are integrated into the general healthcare system. ASHAs refer people who show symptoms of leprosy to a primary healthcare centre. They are entitled to receive an incentive payment of 250 rupees when the diagnosis is confirmed and between 400 and 600 rupees when the course of multi-drug therapy has been completed. They advise on self-care practices which can prevent further disabilities.

We teach ASHAs about symptoms, treatment, common side effects of drugs and how to examine a person.

There are many sources of support for these women, such as Assistant Nurse Midwives and Anganwadi workers.* A national mentoring group supports the ASHAs and there are often similar groups at District or State level.

ASHAs are a really important part of our programmes and a valuable asset in raising awareness and motivating changes in behaviour.

* A typical Anganwadi centre provides basic health care in Indian villages and is also part of the Integrated Child Development Services.