Giving Compass' Take:

•Some ways to ensure the safety and health of sanitation workers in India during COVID-19 is providing protective equipment, offering financial support, and supplying access to food boarding facilities. 

• Why are sanitation workers in India considered a vulnerable population? How can Indian donors play a role in providing support?

• Learn more about rural sanitation in India. 

In addition to healthcare professionals, there is another group of people at the frontlines of the global crisis caused by COVID-19. They put their lives at risk every day and play a critical role in preventing the spread of the virus, by ensuring our streets, parks, public spaces, sewers, septic tanks, communities, and public toilets are kept clean and hygienic.

They are our often-overlooked sanitation workers. These five million public health and safety workers—who continue to work through the COVID-19 pandemic—are unprotected, stigmatised, unappreciated, and seen as people to be shunned.

One of the biggest challenges they face is that they have no information about affected households, nor about those who are at high risk. If they contract the virus, they have very little recourse to health safety nets, insurance, or access to already overflowing public health facilities. This is particularly stark for women sanitation workers, who make up more than 50 percent of urban sanitation workers.

What needs to be done to ensure the health and safety of these essential workers?

  • Provide protective equipment While we recognise that frontline staff in hospitals and health facilities face a dire shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), the need of the hour is also to find ways to provide sanitation workers with the following necessities: masks (at the very least, double-layered stitched cloth masks), rubber gloves, aprons, protective footwear or boots, sanitiser, and soap.
  • Provide financial support 
    • Protection of salaries
    • Allocation of CSR funds to organisations that work with sanitation workers
  • Offer support at a local level Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) should ensure that sanitation workers who work in their localities have proper PPE.
  • Provide access to food and boarding facilities 

Read the full article about protecting sanitation workers during COVID-19 by Abhinav Akhilesh, Meera Mehta, and Zara Juneja at India Development Review.