Accredited Social Health Activists, or ASHA workers, were named among the recipients of the World Health Organization’s Global Health Leaders Awards on Sunday.

ASHA workers are female community health volunteers engaged under the National Health Mission. They are tasked with a range of responsibilities, including facilitating immunisation and institutional childbirth, monitoring children with malnutrition and creating awareness about family planning.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, they played a key role in the vaccination programme.

The World Health Organization said that it honoured the workers “for their crucial role in linking the community with the health system, to ensure those living in rural poverty can access primary health care services, as shown throughout the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The global health body said that ASHA workers work on maternal health care, immunisation, treatment for hypertension and tuberculosis and contribute to “core areas of health promotion for nutrition, sanitation, and healthy living”.

ASHA workers across India have held protests in recent years in connection with a range of demands, including a better pay, pensions and status as government employees. Currently, they get task-based incentives under the National Health Mission as well as honorariums from state governments.

The other recipients of the Global Health Leaders Award were Paul Farmer, the co-founder of international non-governmental organisation Partners in Health, mental health researcher Ahmed Hankir, volleyball player and youth sports advocate Oliviera Varela, the polio workers of Afghanistan and leprosy elimination activist Yōhei Sasakawa.

“At a time when the world is facing an unprecedented convergence of inequity, conflict, food insecurity, the climate crisis and a pandemic, this award recognises those who have made an outstanding contribution to protecting and promoting health around the world,” the World Health Organization’s Director General Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus said.