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Mumbai: Tussle between BMC and health workers halts TB vaccine trials

Updated on: 18 June,2024 07:03 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Eshan Kalyanikar |

Agitation over pending dues lead to stoppage of major health survey

Mumbai: Tussle between BMC and health workers halts TB vaccine trials

Health workers stage a mass protest at Azad Maidan on June 11. File pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

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Mumbai: Tussle between BMC and health workers halts TB vaccine trials

For the past couple of months, the tussle between community health volunteers (CHV) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has led to a pause of some crucial plans, like the trial for adult Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccines, as the former have been demanding the payment of pending dues and better wages.

As part of this trial study, which was to be conducted in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Tuberculosis Elimination Program (NTEP), CHVs were supposed to survey 12 wards for targeted intervention in six high-risk groups to prevent the spread of tuberculosis.

“In January, they had deployed us to survey the Maratha reservation. The payment for that has still not reached our bank accounts. In April, we refused to be part of the BCG survey for this reason as well as for want of better remuneration,” said Sumedha Mane, a CHV in Goregaon who looks after 1,500 individuals in her area.
The high-risk groups included TB patients in the last five years and their household contacts, self-declared diabetes patients, self-declared smokers, those suffering from malnutrition and senior citizens.

Dr Varsha Puri, city TB officer, said, “We completed the survey for about 6,000 individuals, but we are looking to cover a population of 60,000 to 70,000. The initiative has been delayed. It is because the CHVs are refusing work due to the pending dues. But there were also other reasons for the delay like the consent forms for participants had not arrived.”

She added that as an alternative, BMC will now be roping in NGOs for the survey. “It is at a pause now but we are expecting it to be back on track this month.” There was a three-day strike by the CHVs last week for long-pending issues like pension, provident fund, and an increase in salary from Rs 12,000 to Rs 18,000, which hampered crucial monsoon-related prevention activities.

Even as the CHVs have now resumed work, the unions have decided to continue the protest in phases. “The talks with BMC have fallen flat. We are assured of intervention by the CM’s office post-MLC elections. Till then, after their daily work, ward-wise CHVs will be sitting on protest at Azad Maidan. Every day, there will be 30 to 40 CHVs along with their 24 ward-level representatives on protest,” said advocate Prakash Devdas, head of the Municipal Corporation Health Workers Union.

On BMC’s part, officials insist that CHVs are fairly compensated considering they are volunteers, and the Bombay High Court order that recognised the employee-employer relationship between the two has been challenged by the civic body. Devdas said, “The court’s verdict should not be mixed up with our demands as what we are asking can be extended to contractual workers.”

Assistant Municipal Commissioner Dr Sudhakar Shinde said, “We held a round of meetings with the unions, and the issue will be resolved at the earliest.” 

Rs 18,000
Salary demanded by CHVs

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