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Antimicrobial, reusable, low cost? Women’s well-being and health in Tanzania

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Antimicrobial, reusable, low cost? Women’s well-being and health in Tanzania Girls at a classroom at a rural school in Tanzania. Photo: Gonzalo Bell / Shutterstock

Meet Fatuma, a 27-year-old mother of two, from Mwanza in northwestern Tanzania. Like many women in her community, Fatuma has faced challenges during her menstrual cycle that extend beyond the discomfort of cramps. The lack of access to and high cost of safe menstrual pads affects her well-being and health.

The lack of affordable menstrual products in Tanzania results in many women making due using (and reusing) homemade menstrual materials, such as khanga and kitenge, or just old pieces of fabric. These are commonly used but, of course, have poor absorbing capacity and are unhygienic, increasing the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs), bacterial vaginosis (BV), and toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

Image New antimicrobial menstrual hygiene pads being manufactured in Tanzania. Photo: Sridhar Boobalan, Planning and Logistic Manager, Real Relief Pvt. Ltd. India.

The choice of materials is influenced by factors such as affordability, local availability, reusability, and misconceptions about sanitary pads. A UNICEF study on Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) materials found that both sanitary pads and reusable cloths are commonly used by girls for menstruation. Reusable cloths are more prevalent among girls in rural areas, while sanitary pads are widely used in urban areas. However, some girls who use cloth may compromise on safety and hygiene, as they sometimes use dirty and discarded pieces of old fabric. The cost of disposable pads is approximately TSH 3,500 ($1.36) per month per female in the household, which is unaffordable for many rural families, whose average total household consumption stands at TZS 361,956 ($141.94). Women have to choose between using disposable pads, around 30,250 TZS ($ 12) per year, and reusable pads that are much cheaper, around 11,000 TZS ($4.30) per year, but are the reusable pads safe to use?

While reusable pads offer the advantage of being cost-effective, their safety depends on proper hygiene practices -proper cleaning and disinfection- to ensure that all bacteria and fungi are effectively removed. This is crucial to minimize health risks but especially in rural settings, where access to water is a challenge, this is hard to do perfectly or regularly.

In the near future, Tanzanian women and girls will experience a significant advancement in their menstrual hygiene management as new antimicrobial reusable sanitary pads come to the market. These pads have the potential to transform the way menstruation is managed by providing a safe, leak-resistant, and cost-effective solution that addresses the unique challenges faced by women and girls in resource-constrained rural settings.

The innovative pads, made from a highly absorbable and quick-drying antimicrobial material, bring numerous benefits - comfort, convenience, low-cost price - as well as help keep women’s health safe. Its antimicrobial treatment gives the pad self-cleaning properties, preventing the growth of virus, bacteria, and fungus, making it hygienic for up to three years. These qualities help reduce the risk of infections, including UTIs and bacterial vaginosis. With these pads, women and girls can confidently prioritize their health and well-being during menstruation, knowing that their chosen menstrual hygiene product offers not only convenience but also enhanced safety.

With cost being a critical factor for many families in Tanzania, the reusable pads offer a cost-effective solution. A pack of reusable antimicrobial pads sells for about 11,000-13,000 TZS ($4.30-5.10), which significantly reduces monthly expenditure on menstrual hygiene products.

An additional improvement for menstrual health and hygiene is the rise of menstrual health mobile applications. These apps offer various functionalities like hygiene tips, menstrual cycle tracking, and links to healthcare services, enhancing accessibility and ease of menstrual health management. This progress marks a significant step in making menstrual health care more approachable and manageable for women and girls in Tanzania; however, access for rural women and girls to such technology is limited.

Thanks to these improvements, the narrative of women like Fatuma will witness a remarkable transformation. Fatuma, once burdened by infections and the high cost of traditional menstrual products, will soon benefit from the comfort and safety of the antimicrobial sanitary pads. The change in Fatuma’s life will extend beyond personal health; it signifies a broader shift in Tanzania towards empowering women with the confidence to pursue daily activities without fear or discomfort. This story of change is a testament to the power of innovation in creating a healthier, more dignified future for women and girls across the nation.

Ruth Kennedy-Walker

Water Supply and Sanitation Specialist

Kristoffer Welsien

Senior Water Supply & Sanitation Specialist, the World Bank

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