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World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021: The ongoing Covid-19 has severely impacted menstrual hygiene

On World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021 the focus should be on women's health and care which has been adversely affected due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic (Pic: Courtesy chapelhillobgyn.com)

Even in normal times focus on women’s menstrual hygiene gets the lowest priority and now during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic it doesn’t figure on the radar of people, including women. Observing the World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021, it is imperative to highlight this aspect of women’s health which can be a matter of life and death!

This year’s theme for WMHD 2021 is “Action and Investment in Menstrual Hygiene and Health.”

As per the National Family Health Survey, 2015-16 figures only 57.6 per cent women in India use sanitary napkins. This means that others have to use cloth, leaves, ash or hay that results in urinary and reproductive tract infections which is not only painful but can be dangerous.

The Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdowns have played havoc with education, economy, livelihood and healthcare of people and one of the worst areas to be impacted is the access to menstrual products and maintenance of the hygiene connected with menstruation.

Limited availability of napkins

In an article in ndtv.com, Vikas Bagaria, Founder, Pee Safe, daily hygiene products manufacturer said, due to the lockdown the distribution of sanitary pads in Government schools has been halted. “I think the maximum impact of the lockdown has been on the government school girls because schools – a critical part of the supply chain – are closed during the coronavirus lockdown. They were getting free pads every month from their school. But now since all schools are closed, they are facing inaccessibility of sanitary pads.”

Giving an example, he said that nearly 15,000 girls have been directly affected in terms of menstrual hygiene management due to the lockdown.

The article also quoted 14-year-old Muskhan, daughter of a mason and domestic help, staying in a slum adjacent to Lajpat Nagar who attends the Government-run school and was receiving sanitary napkins every month from the institution.

“I don’t have pads at home. The last pack I got from school got over in March. Since then, I make pad at home with the help of my mother by wrapping some cotton from our pillows and mattress into a cotton cloth.”

Health hazards

According to Dr. Akansha Pandey, a gynaecologist at the Capital’s Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital, “the use of cloth is fine as long as it is washed well, hygienic and disinfected. In rural areas as well as among the urban poor, there is a tendency to wash without proper cleanser and hurriedly, while shying away from sun drying it, thereby making it less hygienic. It can lead to serious health issues, including inflammation, infection and septicemia.”

Besides, the schools, the non-government and not-for-profit organisations working in urban slums and in rural areas, played a pivotal role in distribution of pads and creating awareness about menstrual health.

Talking to India.com on the adverse effect of the Covid-19 lockdown on menstrual hygiene, Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of Population Foundation of India said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated women’s deprivation of menstrual hygiene products, amongst several other basic needs. The lockdown has resulted in restricted access, mobility and freedom for women and girls making it even more difficult for them to manage their monthly cycle in a dignified, healthy way.”

Going to cite examples, she added: “PFI’s NGO partners working in the field with adolescents in Bihar and Rajasthan reported stock-outs of sanitary napkins at local shops for the month of April. Aanganwadi centres, which are a major access point for sanitary napkins and iron and folic acid (IFA) tablets for girls were also closed. Not being in school for girls also means no weekly IFA supplementation and no sanitary napkin distribution.”

Making the point touched by Bagaria, Muttreja said, the closure of schools has resulted in discontinuation of sanitary pad distribution. “The Government must ensure that the sanitary pads are distributed to girls in the community via its large network of Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs) along with support from the Accredited Social Health Activist frontline workers. In addition, subsidized sanitary pads can be made available for sale through the ration shops. It is the need of the hour to ensure a gender-sensitive and inclusive response to the COVID-19 crisis so that the menstrual health and hygiene needs of women and girls are met, especially the most marginalized and hard to reach populations.”

Low supply

What has hit the marginalised sections is also the fact that several small units engaged in manufacturing low-cost sanitary napkins have been shut due to pandemic restrictions. According to Bagaria this has led to severe shortage of napkins. While earlier, this product was not included in the essential list, now figures in that, though the supply is still low.

How did World Menstrual Hygiene Day come into being?

This special day was initiated by a German-based NGO WASH United in 2014. The reason for opting for May 28 as Menstrual Hygiene is because on an average, the menstrual cycle for most women is 28 days and the period lasts for five days. That is how the date was decided.

NGO WASH United had in May 2013, carried out a 28-day campaign on social media to create awareness among people about menstruation. The success of the campaign led to the decision to create awareness about mensuration on a global basis.

The first time this day was celebrated was on May 28, 2014. That day exhibitions, rallies, workshops, speeches and screenings were organised.