Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moving Menstrual Cycle Out of Way of Learning. Period.

ALONGSIDE the strides being made and remembered during Women’s History Month is the small triumph in the northern Ethiopian city of Mekelle and beyond.

School-age girls no longer have to miss school and fall behind in their studies because they can continue to attend classes and have their menstrual cycles at the same time. Heretofore, they were missing school and falling behind because they did not have access to sanitary products.

A sanitary napkin made from Ethiopian cotton. Photo from Girls2Women Web site.

That is changing after a sanitary pad making program was introduced by Columbia University School of Nursing professor Mary Moran through an organization called Girls2Women, http://www.girls2women.org/. In the program, Mekelle stakeholders learned to make pads out of durable Ethiopian cotton. Made in various colors from what's available, the pads can be washed, hung to dry, and reused. It is catching on.

“We’ve heard many of the girls say that since using the pads they are no longer afraid to leave their houses during menstruation,” MM told the Columbia University School of Nursing news. “By giving them the skills to manage their menstrual cycles, we’re improving their school attendance, and providing the next generation of women with more opportunities.”

Rwandan women make sanitary napkins from banana fibers. Photo from Sustainable Health Enterprise Web site.

To a Western audience, this may seem like a small thing but it makes a world of difference in the developing regions of Africa, Asia, Central America and South America where supplies and knowledge are woefully inadequate. Further, in numerous cultures there is a taboo associated with the menstrual cycle.

This taboo, albeit less severe, still exists in parts of the West, particularly in the United States. It is not uncommon to observe an American woman shielding her sanitary product purchases. Men in certain corners of the country will not eat food prepared by a woman having her period. Ramp this up exponentially and it is easy to understand the situation in a Madagascar.

There is a high incidence of African girls missing school because of their period, according to a 2010 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) titled “How to integrate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) into HIV programmes.” The report found that “about 1 in 10 African school-age girls do not attend school during menstruation or drop out when puberty starts, because schools lack clean and private sanitation facilities.” (http://www.1.usa.gov/11InJba)

In much of the developing world access to any facilities, including clean facilities, as well as access to water is a problem. Much of the concern about Proctor & Gamble’s (Tampax, Always) Protecting Futures campaign was around these issues, not to mention the expense and adverse environmental impacts of its product. (http://www.tampax.com/en-US/protectingFutures/protectingFutures.aspx). Indeed, in the final analysis it appears that once taboos against menstruation have been overcome, adequate facilities made available and costs brought down, there is still the matter of environmental impacts of sanitary products.

Papyrus is a raw material used in the manufacture of the Makapad. Photo from Makapad Web site.

With these concerns in mind, solutions abound. In Rwanda, where some 18 percent of girls were missing on average 35 days of schools, Elizabeth Scharpf developed SHE. Through Sustainable Health Enterprise, http://www.sheinnovates.com/, females not only learn about their menstrual cycles, they are taught to make sanitary napkins from the absorbent fibers of banana trees. This is an eco-friendly practice because the fibers come from trees that are cut down after each harvest. As an added benefit, SHE provides jobs. (See video at top).

Another environmentally-friendly sanitary product is the Makapad. Produced from papyrus and paper, the makapad was developed by Moses Musaazi of Uganda’s College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT). Makapads, which are billed as the only sanitary pad made in Africa, cost about 50 percent less than imported brands and are 95 percent biodegradable. The “maka” in makapads is an acronym for Menstruation Administration Knowledge Affordability. (http://www.cedat.mak.ac.ug/research/maka-pads.html)

The Mpower menstual cup is one of two made in Africa. Photo from Mpower enstrual cup Web site.

Considered by many to be the best solution for staying on top of the personal and environmental inconvenience of the menstrual cycle for the entire world, are the numerous menstrual cups on the market. The only two known to be made in Africa are from South Africa: Mpower menstrual cup and miacup (http://www.mpowercup.co.za/, http://www.miacup.co.za/).

The UK’s Mooncup, http://www.mooncup.co.uk/, has the most informative video (above). Made in the EU under Swiss management is the LadyCup, http://www.ladycup.eu/, which comes in a variety of colors, including tangerine. At the moment, Germany’s MeLuna, http://www.meluna.eu/?___store=english, is the only menstrual cup known to be made from TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) instead of silicone.

Other menstrual cups on the market:
Lunette (Finland) http://www.lunette.com/
Femmecup (UK) http://www.femmecup.com/
The DivaCup (Canada) http://www.divacup.com/

The DivaCup is a multi-colored thing. Photo from The DivaCup Web site.

The only down side to the menstrual cup may be the adjustment period. It seems to be a solution to all of the issues that a woman in the developing world, or any part of the world, might face. Consider:

1. cost-effective because in most cases it lasts for at least 5 years
2. reusable
3. requires very little water to clean
4. holds significantly more flow than a pad or tampon
5. doesn't cause toxic shock syndrome(TSS)
6. made from environmentally friendly medical-grade silicone
7. often available in various colors and sizes

If an event as seemingly minor as a period can have adverse effects on the life of a female, the aforementioned prescriptions are giant steps for womankind ... Rx

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