Migrant workers struggle for healthcare in lockdown

Routinely excluded from urban healthcare systems, India’s migrant workers struggled to find medical help for Covid-19 and other diseases during the second wave of the pandemic, a recent survey by labour rights organisation Aajeevika Bureau found. They also had trouble accessing free Covid-19 vaccines.

Of the migrant workers interviewed in the first week of May 2021, 27% had Covid-19 or other diseases during the second surge. Of them, 70% struggled to find treatment, 58% got no support from their employers and 62% were forced to borrow heavily to cover the healthcare costs, shows Aajeevika’s telephonic survey of 195 migrant workers in Ahmedabad.

In a two-part series based on the survey, we explore the impact of the sporadic state lockdowns on the lives of migrant workers who have chosen to remain in cities. The first part dealt with job and wage losses. In this, the concluding part, we examine the health impacts of the crisis and trace these to the structural exclusion of migrants from urban health systems, lack of support from employers and a deep mistrust of the public healthcare system.

32% of sick workers dismissed

Swati Saktavat, a community leader who works with tribal migrant workers in Ahmedabad, recounted the experience of Shamliben*, who caught a Covid-19 infection in April 2021 while she was in her village in Dahod district, eastern Gujarat. Though she was diagnosed in Ahmedabad where she works, Shamliben chose to return to her village when her condition worsened because she did not trust the government health facilities in the city.

“Having spent upwards of Rs 25,000 towards her hospitalisation in the village, she struggled to repay her debt. Days after getting discharged, she was forced to return to the city, during the second wave in the hope of finding some work at the labour naka,” said Saktavat.

Our survey also revealed an absence of support from employers. Up to 58% of the workers who had Covid-19–or other diseases–were not paid for the period when they were ill; 32% were dismissed.

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