Thursday, 3 May 2012
Affordable menstrual pads keep girls in school, create jobs
A project that is making affordable sanitary pads from locally available materials is keeping young girls from poor families in school all month long as well as generating local employment for many women, men and girls in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. The Makapads, which sell much more cheaply than imported sanitary pads used by better-off women and girls during menstruation, were developed by Dr. Moses Kizza Musaazi of Makerere University’s Faculty of Technology in 2003-4, with funding support from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Research done in 2002 showed that many girls did not attend school when they were menstruating because they could not afford to buy commercially-made sanitary pads and 90% of the urban poor were improvising with unhealthy materials such as banana fibers, grass, leaves, old newspapers, and pieces of cloth that did not provide reliable protection. Dr. Musaazi, a specialist in appropriate technology and a senior lecturer in Makerere University's department of electrical engineering, set out to make simple, safe, affordable sanitary pads that would keep girls in school. Earlier he had designed an incinerator that burns sanitary pads and other solid waste.
The sanitary pads (trademarked Makapads) are the first to be made from 99% local materials with the main raw material being papyrus reeds, cut from the vast, abundant swamps and riverbanks all over Uganda. After the papyrus is cut, the green cover is peeled off and the white stem is crushed using a rubber hammer. The material is then dried under the sun and sent for paper processing. Dried papyrus is mixed with water and waste paper or paper cut-offs from printing presses. The mixture of pounded paper and crushed papyrus is put in a rectangular box with a sheave for drying. After the mixture has dried, it is then taken for softening and smoothening in a softening machine. All tools used in the process are locally made or fabricated.
The softened material is then trimmed into pads of 5 cm by 20 cm using a paper cutter and sealed into non-woven packing materials, bought from shops around town. The pads are sealed in packs of three and exposed to ultraviolet light to kill off any bacteria. The pads, three to eight times more absorbent than any on the market, have been approved by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards.
Apart from producing safe and cheap sanitary pads, other project achievements include development of simple cottage machines which are locally manufactured and that use more than 95% local materials. It has so far provided employment and skills development opportunities to women, girls and men, working at different Makapads sub-processes.