Health

April 21, 2024

Period poverty: Millions bleed in silence as prices of sanitary pads hit the roof

Sanitary Pads among 20 Basic Items Exempted From 7.5 VAT

Women, girls risk genital tract infections – EXPERTS

Millions bleed in silence as prices of sanitary pads hit the roof

Women, girls risk genital tract infections – EXPERTS

By Chioma Obinna

Imagine missing school or work every  month because you can’t afford sanitary pads. This is the reality for over 37 million Nigerian women and girls, according to a former Minister of Women’s Affairs, Pauline Tallen.

Sadly, the current high cost of sanitary pads has pushed many more into period poverty, restricting their ability to work, study and participate in daily life.

In the face of this challenge, Sunday Vanguard probes how Nigerian women and girls navigate menstrual hygiene.

As a mother of three teenage girls, ages 14, 16 and 18, Mrs Joy Anyanwu has been bearing the burden of providing her girls with sanitary pads and other items they may require.

Joy, a teacher in one of the private schools in Ikotun area of Lagos, who lost her husband some years ago, said she is disturbed watching her girls use rags for their monthly period due to her inability to afford sanitary pads.

 This development is no thanks to the high cost of sanitary pads.

The mother of three girls and two boys told Sunday Vanguard that due to her inability to afford these menstrual hygiene products, her children usually stay away from school and church services for four days in order not to be embarrassed.

With tears in her eyes, she said with a monthly salary of N30, 000, the family can barely feed three times a day.

“To support myself, I have been able to cut some of my unused wrappers in small sizes.  I supervise the washing and anytime I have money I buy a pack and keep it in case any of them have tests or exams”, Joy told Sunday Vanguard.

“For instance, before now, a Lady Care pad of 10 pieces in a pack was sold between N300 and N450 last year. “Today, some go as high as N850, N1, 550, and N2, 980, depending on the area of purchase.

In supermarkets visited by Sunday Vanguard, the prices of popular brands like Always start from N985. 

Some of the different types of Always pads like Ultra-normal with wings go for as high as N2, 785.

Some of the cheapest pads, like Lilypad Ultra-soft, a pack of 7, sell now for N510. 

A Molped pad (Super Value Pack) is sold for N1, 810, a value pack of 10 goes for N965, Super Value Pack of 32 goes for N3, 270 and a Molped Ultra-soft of 10 is sold at N1, 145.

Also, Kotex Pad Ultra goes for N585, depending on the area of purchase.

“I tried going back to using toilet tissues, but their prices have also skyrocketed. Some of the cheap brands that go for N50 are now sold for N250,” Joy said.

Like Joy, many parents are facing a lot of trouble following the skyrocketing prices of sanitary products.

Investigations by Sunday Vanguard show that the cost of all brands of sanitary pads has gone out of the reach of the poor by over 400 per cent.

The prices of other popular economy brands like Virony sold at N1, 200 last year have gone up to N3, 000.

Angel pads of 10 are now sold for N700 while 10 pieces of Dry Love sanitary pad go for N900.

“My daughter almost missed her mock exams. She was supposed to go to school that morning when the period came out”, Joy said.

“I was not at home and there was no money to buy a pad. Thanks to my neighbour who volunteered to give her two pieces from her house.

“She got to school late. Government must put policies in place to check the high cost of essential products that can put the lives of people in danger; it is no longer easy for parents like me”.

Missing classes

 For an undergraduate student at Imo State University, Celestina, many students are avoiding classes due to their inability to afford these sanitary pads.

“Girls are missing classes not because they are sick but because they cannot afford to spend their feeding money on expensive sanitary pads, especially some of them that experience heavy flow”, Celestina stated.

“Some use toilet tissue which is not good but they have no choice.  Some even use newspapers.  It is pathetic. Some also tear their clothes for their menstrual period.

“Last week I did not go to church because I ran out of sanitary pads.  I cannot go to church with rags or toilet tissue. I had to stay in my hostel”.

Meanwhile, Sunday Vanguard finds that if nothing is done urgently, the period of poverty may persist or become a bigger burden. 

Nigeria, over the years, has continued to face challenges in menstrual hygiene management.

For instance, a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) based on a survey conducted in the north-western state of Kaduna shows that only 37 per cent of women aged 15–49 have everything they need such as clean materials, a facility, pain medication, and places to dispose of used products for proper menstrual hygiene.

In a UNFPA-supported Lagos State-wide assessment on Menstrual Hygiene Management, MHM, across its secondary schools, it was found that over 77 per cent reported re-using their menstrual materials that are not reusable pads.

Although studies have shown that menstrual hygiene management is an essential aspect of hygiene among women and girls in the menstruating age group, it is often overlooked and doesn’t attract much attention in some countries, like Nigeria.

Infections

 Medical experts are, in the meantime, warning that poor menstrual hygiene can severely impact a woman’s sexual and reproductive health.

Poor menstrual hygiene, according to them, increases the risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections, which can lead to future infertility and complications during childbirth.

Again, resorting to unhygienic sanitary products, they said, not only puts girls at physical risk but also subjects them to a cycle of fear as they approach their period, dreading leaks and odour.

According to a Consultant Gynaecologist at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Modupe Olatokunbo-Adedeji, the use of unhygienic rags in place of sanitary pads could lead to genital tract infections.

Olatokunbo-Adedeji said such infections occur due to alternative materials like used clothes, and tissue rolls, which break into particles when moist and are left behind even far into the vagina for microbes to thrive on and others.

She listed such infections that can be contracted to include genital tract infections, vulvovaginitis, cervicitis, endometritis, salpingitis, oophoritis and then pelvic inflammatory disease.

Olatokunbo-Adedeji said: “Government basically should look into ensuring that essential products are accessible to people by some subsidy or encouraging  local production.

“The use of clothing materials is supposed to be extinct and is looking like we are recalling these materials. “Just like childhood immunisation is free, why can’t the distribution of sanitary towels be likewise? The definitive option is to make them affordable.”

For the Executive Director of Yeye Modupe Alakija Foundation, YMAAF, Omobola Olaribigbe, limited access to menstrual hygiene in Nigeria is a key concern and this lack of access is why her organisation works to improve menstrual hygiene supplies for disadvantaged girls in schools across communities. Olaribigbe decried that the price of menstrual products has skyrocketed by over 300 per cent in just a year, making them scarce and forcing people to resort to unsafe alternatives.

“This has severe consequences. It leads to health risks, keeps women from work and forces schoolgirls to miss classes, further hindering their education and future job prospects”, the expert said. On health, she noted that, depending on the menstrual flow, a person may need an average of three pads a day but some are using one. For those using tampons, for example, she explained, there’s something called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a serious illness caused by bacterial growth. “Long (over 8 hours) and even using sanitary pads for too long could lead to discomfort or leaks”, Olaribigbe added.

The expert stressed the need to promote proper menstrual hygiene and encourage women to change pads and tampons regularly based on their needs. “Apart from the health implications, there is also the economic impact on adults and children because they will begin to miss work and school”, she said. Olaribigbe explained that, on average, women with regular periods need 3–4 pads changed every three hours. This translates to roughly 15- 20 pads used per 5-day cycle, requiring about 2–2.5 packs of pads.

Experience in the field

Sharing her experience, she said for three years, her NGO provided pads to a young woman who has moved to university now every month and that lifted a burden for her and her family.

“However, we met some girls who resorted to washing and reusing pads, which is a health risk”, Olaribigbe said. “It is a health disaster. Disposable pads are meant for single use, and washing them reduces their effectiveness. These are the two realities I’ve encountered.

Way forward

”Some people sew their reusable pads, which can be cost-effective in the long run. “However, proper hygiene is crucial when reusing pads to prevent infections.

“This requires access to clean water and proper drying methods. For those struggling with access to hygiene resources, other menstrual products like menstrual cups (if culturally appropriate) might be a better option. “Another solution is for government to come to the aid of young girls. Some parts of the world are already giving away free sanitary products to girls in their countries.

“I will give it out to Cortex because sometime last year, they gave out a thousand sanitary pads to different NGOs that are working on menstrual hygiene. “I believe that government can come to the aid of young girls by making policies whereby we can get free sanitary pads access to girls. Especially the girls in the public schools, it will go a very long way.” She further stressed the need to raise awareness of hygiene conditions for reusable pads.

According to World Bank Statistics, though Menstrual Health and Hygiene, MHH, is essential to the well-being and empowerment of women and adolescent girls, on any given day, more than 300 million women worldwide are menstruating. In total, an estimated 500 million people lack access to menstrual products and adequate facilities for Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM), the report shows. The report, therefore, recommends that to effectively manage their menstruation, girls and women require access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, facilities, affordable and appropriate menstrual hygiene materials, information on good practices, and a supportive environment where they can manage menstruation without embarrassment or stigma.

Vanguard News