Importance of Menstrual Hygiene
Menstruation is a natural part of the reproductive cycle but sadly the culture of taboo, myths, misinformation and stigma associated with the subject even today, gets in the way of women managing their menstruation with dignity. It is indeed important to have a society that values and supports the fact that Menstrual Hygiene is vital to the empowerment and well-being of women and girls.
As per World Health Organization statistics, India accounts for 27 percent of the world’s cervical cancer deaths. This rate is almost twice the global average and doctors studying the disease believe poor menstrual hygiene is the top contributing factor. When it comes to practicing good menstrual hygiene, it is imperative that this begins from a young age to avoid detrimental health issues during later stages of life.
Improper hygiene during periods can cause uncomfortable conditions like bacterial infections to more serious reproductive tract infections or even cervical cancer. Microbes like Candida albicans, Staphylococcus aureus, E.coli, and Pseudomonas can multiply in the humid environment provided by prolonged use of damp and dirty menstrual clothes or using a sanitary napkin for longer than 4 hours. Such bacteria can enter your urinary tract including urethra and urinary bladder, leading to painful urination, lower abdominal pain, back pain, and fever. Sanitary napkins are made of plastics and SAP derived from crude oil and hence prolonged use can cause painful rashes, abrasions and allergies. Frequently changing pads and washing external genitalia with clean water and soap prevents atleast 97% of such infections. Once these infections invade the mucosal layer of the reproductive tract causing damage to uterine wall, ovaries and Fallopian tubes, this can result in the deterioration of reproductive health. Unhygienic handling of menstrual waste can also easily spread the Human Papilloma virus transmitted sexually, leading to cervical cancer which is the cancer of the opening of the uterus.
The use of biodegradable sanitary napkins made from plant-based raw materials can be effective in addressing problems like rashes and allergic reactions to some extent. As such pads are free of chemicals, they maintain the natural pH of the vaginal region without altering the micro-environment.
A majority of women and girls in the rural areas in India still lack access to adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Inadequate WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities in their own homes or in public places, such as in schools, workplaces or health centers, the lack of separate toilets with doors that can be safely closed, or the unavailability of means to dispose of used sanitary pads and water to wash hands pose a major obstacle to women and girls. Many women in the poorer sections of society still use unhygienic methods to collect menstrual blood as they lack awareness regarding the ill effects and access to affordable sanitary napkins. Due to lack of proper facilities in rural schools atleast 1 in 5 girls drop out of school or results in school absenteeism once they begin menstruating.
More than the availability of infrastructure, it is the social norms, beliefs and stigmas attached to menstruation that lead to an overall culture of silence around the topic, resulting in limited information on menstrual hygiene. Such misinformation can have serious ramifications on the health and dignity of girls and women.
Menstrual cups have garnered huge attention as an effective and reusable alternative to sanitary napkins and tampons in the recent times. The popularity of the same is possibly due to a combination of environmental and economic reasons. The cups which are made of medical grade silicon or latex can last up to 10 years, making it a cheaper option in the long run than disposable pads. Especially in rural areas with poor sanitation and water facilities, menstrual cups are a sensible option as they don’t require much water to clean. As long as the cups are used as directed, the overall risk and adverse effects are minimal. Even in the light of the many advantages of using menstrual cups, health care providers do not seem confident enough about recommending its usage to women and girls.
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