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Developing an Affordable Sanitary Pad

Health need

Girls as well as women in the developing world suffer from lack of adequate solutions to manage menstruation. Imported pads are prohibitively expensive for low-income families. Research conducted in Uganda indicates that about 90 percent of urban poor women and girls cannot afford off-the-shelf sanitary pads and instead improvise with materials such as grass, leaves, old newspapers, and pieces of cloth. These materials, however, have been linked to certain reproductive tract infections.

They also have limited absorbency and make it difficult for girls to participate in school during their periods.


The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that 1 in 10 school-age African girls either skips school during menstruation or drops out entirely because of lack of menstrual hygiene solutions.

Numerous studies have confirmed that educating girls is associated with significant development and health benefits to the girls, their families, and society. These benefits include protecting girls from HIV/AIDS, abuse, and exploitation; reducing subsequent child and maternal mortality; improving child nutrition and health; decreasing fertility rates; enhancing women’s domestic role and their political participation; and improving economic productivity.

Technology solution

PATH’s solution is to develop and advance low-cost menstrual management options for girls and women in low-resource settings. Our finding from focus group discussions and literature reviews indicate that girls and women are interested in disposable products that offer better absorbency and have a cheaper price tag than available options. There are also reusable options (cloth pads and menstrual cups) that can last for several years.

These approaches require a higher up-front cost, access to clean water and soap, and thorough drying—resources that are not always available in poor communities. We are currently exploring a hybrid concept (i.e., a combination of a reusable, fluidresistant sleeve with a disposable, absorbent core) to address the growing challenge of disposing of plastic-lined pads and to reduce the cost. This hybrid option could also offer girls and women the flexibility of using a variety of absorbent materials that are available to them.

Current status and results

We completed an initial prototype of a hybrid pad based on pad testing that we conducted and targeted productspecifications that we identified in early 2011. In the fall of 2011, PATH conducted focus group discussions with women and girls in Cambodia for input on various prototype designs of the hybrid pad. While women did not actually use the prototypes, their feedback on the design, materials, and preferences will help to further define the product specifications; we are now synthesizing the results of those discussions. PATH will also gather focus group feedback from South African and Indian women on perceived acceptability of these pads through a project on menstrual management and sanitation systems. We hope to understand what women like and dislike about the hybrid sanitary pad design, the availability of appropriate waterproof fabrics, and the potential effect the pads may have on sanitation systems in India and South Africa.

Source: Technology Solutions for Global Health




Current Issue: Africa Water & Sanitation & Hygiene March-April 2017 Vol.12 No.2