The government has initiated a study to find a cost-effective menstrual hygiene solution for schoolgirls, which would consider the use of biodegradable sanitary napkins or reusable menstrual cups.
“We have asked the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to conduct a study on both biodegradable sanitary napkins and reusable menstrual cups. We have to look at the cost effectiveness of the sanitary option, in addition to hygiene," said a senior health ministry official, requesting anonymity.
“There has to be strong technical background for everything before it’s implemented. There have been several representations from stakeholders, but we have to look at waste disposal and other technical issues as well. The work is in progress, but at a nascent stage," the official said.
With just 12% of women and adolescent girls in India having access to sanitary napkins, while a majority relies on unhygienic methods, the government is looking to educate students at schools for improving menstrual hygiene management (MHM) ecosystem.
India has around 355 million menstruating women and girls, who face barriers to effective MHM due to various social and economic factors. “We understand that in order to empower adolescent girls to live a healthy and dignified life, menstruation needs to be recognized as a health concept. As we notice an increase in the rate of admission, we aim to make schools a key platform for improving MHM in India," said Ajay Khera, deputy commissioner in the ministry of health and family welfare.
“We have already made the Menstrual Hygiene Scheme an integral part of the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) to strengthen the discussion on menstrual health and hygiene, and improve access to menstrual hygiene products across India," said Khera.
According to a study published in the June issue of the Journal of Global Health, menstrual hygiene education, accessible sanitary products, pain relief, and adequate sanitary facilities at schools would help improve the schooling-experience of adolescent girls in India. The study was conducted by Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Water Sanitation and Hygiene Section, United Nations Children’s Fund, India, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of India and the US. The study was funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, government of Canada through a grant to Unicef.
The findings are reflective of the MHM scenario in the country’s schools. The surveys were conducted among menstruating schoolgirls of Classes VIII-X (above 12 years of age) across 43 government schools selected through stratified random sampling in the three states (Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu) in 2015.
“Almost 60-70% of women in rural areas suffer from diseases due to poor hygiene and lack of awareness. Lack of clean toilets and absence of menstrual hygiene is a critical element that impacts health of schools girls," said Ajoy Khandheria , founder of Gramin Healthcare, a startup dedicated to support and bringing primary healthcare services and access to specialist care in rural areas.
The National Council of Educational Research and Training syllabus on health and physical education for Classes I-XII provides adequate space to menstrual hygiene in school.