news Monday, June 01, 2015 - 05:30
  On World Menstrual Hygiene Day, Robust Solution, a Kolkata-based start-up initiated a project for installing vending machines that would provide sanitary napkins at cheaper rates. These vending machines are to be installed in schools, colleges and other public spot, ostensibly to fill in the gap created by the government. Activists say that while the government has launched several schemes, expectedly, poor implementation has plagued these schemes. Menstrual hygiene has been a matter of serious concern in India. In 2010 an AC Nielson and Plan India report stated that only 12% out of the 355 million reproductive-age women in India used absorbent pads or other hygienic sanitary methods. Instead, most of them relied on old fabric, husks, dried leaves and grass, ash, sand or newspapers. “Not maintaining proper hygiene and having intercourse during the menstrual cycle could lead to severe infections like Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and even Cervical Cancer,” says Dr Kavitha Pujar of CHM Hospital, Bengaluru. According to World Health Organisation, India accounted to 27% of the world’s cervical cancer deaths, and doctors say that unhygienic menstrual practices could lead to cervical cancer. Occurrence of Reproductive Tract Infections (RTI) is 70% more common amongst women who use unhygienic materials during menstruation stated a survey conducted by Dasra. It is not just a health issue, the girl child’s education is also being affected due to this. As per a survey conducted by Dasra and Forbes Marshall, approximately 23% of girls opted out of the school after they started menstruating. It also mentioned that in some places almost 66 percent of girls would skip school during this time and eventually one-third of them dropped out. Several efforts have been made by the Indian government to educate women and provide sanitary napkins for cheap. The National Rural Health Commission (NRHM) formulated a scheme where a pack of six sanitary napkins would be sold for six rupees. This scheme is further implemented by Accredited Social Health Activists also known as ASHA workers on ground level. ASHA workers are expected to provide information and spread awareness in rural areas regarding menstrual hygiene and its importance and also distribute a pack of sanitary napkins to these women every time they are menstruating. In 2013, the Health and Family Welfare Department of Karnataka initiated a programme for 33 lakh adolescents’ girls in the state. As per the programme free sanitary napkins would be provided to girls aged from 10-16, through Sneha clinics. It also said that girls in government as well as government aided schools would be benefit from this programme. Dilip Pattubala, a member of Sukhibhava acknowledges that the government has taken various steps to assure menstrual hygiene, but says that they are not very well implemented. “The government cannot completely rely on ASHA workers as they are less in number. Moreover those on field are not motivated as their income is very low,” he said. Pattubala says that as per a survey conducted in November 2013 by Sukhibhava of 250 poor women in Bangalore working as housemaids, construction workers and rag pickers, 82% of the women did not use sanitary napkins. “When we asked them why they did not use pads, they gave us reasons like affordability, disposal issues or the fact that it was an age old practice of using cloth and they did not feel the need to switch to sanitary napkins,” he said. Pattubala narrated an incident where during their campaign he came across a woman from Bommanahalli in Bangalore, who was using a ragged cloth to stem her bleeding, for months. “The woman told us that initially she had developed rashes which she thought was due to food allergy, but later it started bleeding. When we provided her medical help, it had turned into severe infection and she was experiencing excessive bleeding,” he said. Dr. Pujar further says that disposable sanitary napkins should be recommended as they could be changed at regular intervals. She informed that using a cloth again and again could lead to Candida infection, allergies and irritation. “Basic access to water and sanitary napkins is must, in order to maintain hygiene,” she said.