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52% of women globally are in reproductive age and most of them are menstruating every month.
Menstruation is a normal, natural biological process experienced by all adolescent girls and women. 52% of women globally are in reproductive age and most of them are menstruating every month. most of them are not in situations to take care of their menstruation in a hygienic manner. Menstruation is believed to be silent and invisible. Awareness and understanding of Menstrual hygiene are essential aspects for every woman. Habitscorrelated to menstruation hygiene are of major worry as it has a health impact if ignored. Women have developed their own personal approaches to handle this period.
Cultural Beliefs, Myths and Taboos –Harmful Restrictions
Menstrual hygiene practices were affected by cultural norms, parental influence, personal preferences and socioeconomic status. Due to cultural beliefs and restrictions, many girls were not sufficiently informed about the reality of menstruation. Girls who are unaware of menarche were frightened, confused, and feel embarrassed and are likely to develop negative approaches towards menstruation. Education plays a key role to know more about menstruation hygiene management and to overcome these false beliefs and prohibitions. Proper education by parents about reproductive health, sexuality and related issues is often a no-go area leading to a low knowledge and understanding on this issue.
Types of Absorbents Usedduring Menstruation
A variety of options are available, and the choice is often influenced by the cost, access to private space to change, easy disposability and easy and regular availability of the product. The choice of absorbents changes among rural and urban women. In rural areas, most women prefer absorbents that are reusable like cloth pads whereas in urban areas women prefer to use commercial sanitary pads. Menstrual Cups are a new technology that has been developed for poor women and girls and as an alternative to sanitary pads and tampons. They are like cups made up of medical-grade silicone rubber which makes the cup easy to fold and get inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood. They are reusable and eco-friendly. It offers a practical, sustainable, and cost-effective alternative where sanitation conditions are not good.
Safe Disposal Techniques
Appropriate disposal of used menstrual material is still lacking in many countries. most of the women dispose of them into domestic solid wastes or garbage bins that ultimately become a part of solid wastes. In rural areas, most women use reusable and non-commercial sanitary materials like reusable pads or cloths. Thus, they generate a lesser amount of menstrual waste as compared to women in urban areas.
The behavior of women regarding disposal is different when being at home and away from home. At home, they dispose of the waste by wrapping and throwing in the dustbin along with other domestic waste. In public places, prior to having knowledge about the consequences of flushing the pads, they flush them in the toilets or wrap and throw them in the dustbins. Where dustbins are not placed they leave the soiled pads wrapped or unwrapped in the toilets. This makes the toilets dirty, breeding place for flies and mosquitoes, and also unhygienic for other toilet users and cleaners.
Biodegradable, disposable ‘Suvidha’ pads, by the Ministry for Chemicals and Fertilizers, Government of India s are oxy-biodegradable and made available in packs of 4, priced at Rs. 2.50 per pad. Available across 586 Indian districts, at Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhicentres. It contains a special additive that renders the napkin biodegradable when exposed to sun and air. The oxo-biodegradable napkin starts decomposing six months after its disposal in a landfill under certain pressure conditions. By comparison, an ordinary pad starts degrading after 500 years.
Menstrual Waste Disposal
Sanitary napkins might decompose over a period of about one year except its plastic lining in on-site sanitation. It was reported that some women wrap their used menstrual cloths and packs in polythene bags before disposing of in pit latrines which prevents them from decomposition. Nowadays, mostly women/girls prefer commercial sanitary pads and tampons which are made up of super absorptive materials like polyacrylate. These pads and tampons when flushed in the toilets they get saturated with liquid and swell up, thus resulting insewage backflow is a serious health hazard.
The adhesive wings and the perforated plastic layers in the commercial sanitary napkins are not easily biodegradable. Deodorized sanitary products used by women/girls contain chemicals used in bleaching such as organochlorines which when buried in the soil disturb the soil microflora and decomposition takes time. Incineration is a better technique to dispose of of menstrual waste but burning of pads releases harmful gasses that effects health and environment. Burning of inorganicmaterial at low temperature releases dioxins which are toxicand carcinogenic in nature.
To conclude lack of privacy, ignorance, misconceptions, unsafe practices, and illiteracy of the mother and child regarding menstruation are the root causes of many problems in menstrual Hygiene Management. Education Plays a Major role, and it should start from the school. Teachers should be educated and trained to impart knowledge about menstruation and menstrual hygiene management among students. Social and electronic media also play an important role to make the girls and women aware about the latest menstrual products and its safe disposal. Emphases should be given on the use of reusable sanitary or cloth pads to overcome the problem of disposal. Girls and women should be aware of the consequences of disposing used menstrual products in open or flushing them in toilets. If possible, incinerators should be installed at homes, schools, and community levels.
Dr. Shweta Khanna.,
Consultant gynecologist, Regency hospital, Kanpur.