Menstrual hygiene takes beating due to taboos associated with periods

Chennai: While several non-governmental organisations and the government have been initiating measures to disseminate information on menstruation and hygiene, a study carried out by Chennai-based Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation and Support Programme (TNUSSP) in Periyanaickenpalayam and Narasimhanaickenpalayam in Coimbatore revealed that Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and prevalence of taboos to be noteworthy challenges and were found to be insufficiently acknowledged.

The qualitative study was done by interacting with several stakeholders including mothers, adolescent girls, pharmacists, sanitation workers among the lot.

The researchers identified that sanitary napkins distributed under the State government’s ‘Pudhu Yugam’ scheme were not of good quality and the girls prefer using commercial products. As per the findings, women aged above 40 were found to be using cloth napkins.

When adolescent girls were quizzed, the researchers were informed that they do not use the pads distributed by the government. Instead their mothers use them with additional absorbent material like cloth.

“They are reluctant to use them as it led to staining of clothes and they had to change multiple times a day which was not feasible,” said researcher Niladri Chakraborty.

The research further mentioned about taboos which also noted that girls were unaware of menstruation and uncomfortable discussing it with their mothers.

“In total, the adolescent population were unprepared during menarche. Despite the urbanised conditions, women are isolated during menstruation,” stated the researcher.

Explaining about the taboos, he added, “One of the respondents stated that she had some sort of malady and to ensure it does not spread to others, she is separated on the three days.”

HEALTH HAZARDS

It should be noted that many women anonymously expressed their health problems during menstruation and wanted intervention from experts. “As they consider this to be a taboo subject, urinary tract infection or other menstrual hygiene problems go undetected unless camps are held,” noted Niladri.

Most girls said they suffer from fatigue, stomach cramps and backache at the onset and during their periods, for which they use home remedies recommended by their mothers or grandmothers. However, when they face more serious issues, they approach private hospitals.

As far as hygiene is concerned, the girls only used water to clean their hands after using the toilet in the schools. At home, they had access to soap and water, stated the report.

POOR DISPOSAL MECHANISM

“Improper disposal of menstrual waste is a noteworthy challenge when it comes to MHM. Polymeric sanitary napkins, which have largely replaced cloth napkins, are made of material that is non-biodegradable, leading to accumulation of used napkins in landfills. Accumulated menstrual waste can be hazardous because menstrual blood on napkins stagnates for a long time allowing pathogens such as Escherichia coli (E-coli) to grow, thereby causing adverse health impacts,” stated the study.

Many people use the community toilets and the sanitary towels are also disposed there. They also have the practice of burning the pads which again is harmful to the environment.

Reiterating on the impacts, Motherhood Hospitals gynaecologist and obstetrician, Dr Kavya Krishna Kumar, said, “Such organisms cause infections that can lead to urinary and also sometimes vaginal problems. If not treated, it can even cause life-threatening condition like toxic shock syndrome.”

WAY FORWARD

Addressing the problems, TNUSSP plans to focus on holding awareness programmes on changing the behavioural pattern, providing knowledge on nutritional requirements and regularised counselling camps would be hosted to let women open about their problems and seek medical consultation.

On managing waste, Niladri said, “We are considering to have household incinerators or segregation during waste disposal. To lessen the environmental hazards, the napkins would be incinerated properly, in a scientific way.”

Bhavani Prabhakar