The primary effect of the COVID-19 outbreak on the global health situation has contributed to a rise in mortality rates worldwide. Although secondary impacts include those indirectly triggered by the pandemic to contain, regulate, and curb it. Such as malnutrition, job losses, and lack of access to essential commodities. Huge impact among essential items observed on female menstrual hygiene. As a result, there is now a massive rise in supply barriers due to a tight lockdown since March.
More than 1.8 million children, women, and non-binary genders menstruate around the world, but many of them are unable to sustain their menstrual cycle with due care and integrity.
Current impact over the female menstrual health and hygiene
The rising costs and economic uncertainty have put menstrual hygiene products in luxury for poor women. Women living in rural areas face a fund crunch to purchase sanitary pads in addition to unsanitary conditions like the crowded washrooms and toilets at their premises. Previously, government schools used to be the channel to reach out to rural areas to educate women towards menstrual hygiene education and awareness. Moreover, these schools acted as a mechanism for offering sanitary pads to the girls and their family members. Today because of the outbreak of COVID-19 schools, and colleges have been closed down. Therefore, there is no provision of sanitary napkins for women living in rural areas. As a result, these women from underprivileged backgrounds did not have many choices but to switch to the usage of cloth pads instead of sanitary napkins. Moreover, these women lack knowledge of the proper use of cloth pads and face social stigma experienced by local rowdies making lewd remarks about bloodstains on their way back home. Many migrant women use socks to soak up their menstrual blood during a pandemic. These women take less food and water when migrating to avoid halting in search of public washrooms. Less number of public toilets over the highway, lack of sanitized changing rooms, and social stigma have led to a worsening of menstrual hygiene, leading to health hazards.
Worldwide, approximately 70% of women currently work in the healthcare workforce. These women are subject to additional problems, such as coping with patients while handling their menstruation. They work long hours under constant pressure to save lives. Most of them ignore their needs by the use of contraceptive pills, or they skip workdays.
Extreme situations broaden among women with disabilities, imprisoned women and refugees, migrants, and transgender people who have very restricted access to menstrual hygiene products. They fear their sanitary needs are forgotten and overlooked.
Growing misconceptions need to stop immediately. For example, people who menstruate are more likely to get infected with covid-19. Other such as menstruation is a disease that is subject to the spread of COVID-19(source). Gender inequality, extreme poverty, and harmful ritual practices such as living in menstrual huts (or cow-sheds) while not touching genitals for washing have contributed to deprivation and stigmatization of menstrual health.
More than 82 percent of organizations noted that there was no access to sanitary pads due to non-operational production units. A new survey recorded that 58% of small manufacturing units had a significant effect on the pandemic. Approximately 37% are indeed not operational at all. (source) Many have modified their manufacturing units into face mask production units, causing a shortage of low-cost menstrual products.
"Put a period to tabooing of the word "Menstruation"
Everyone must recognize the value of raising awareness about menstrual hygiene products. Before the pandemic as well, menstrual awareness and hygiene conditions were not as ideal, now due to the pandemic, it has become worse.
As more women from rural areas and underprivileged communities have switched to the use of conventional cloth pads, lack of adequate information and awareness regarding the proper use of cloth pads has raised serious health concerns for women. In order to spread menstrual health awareness, radio broadcasting should be done. For a few obvious reasons, to share information regarding the home-made menstrual cloth pads and their proper maintenance.
We should ensure that women operating as frontline health workers get more PPE kits and menstrual hygiene products. Focus on ensuring sanitation facilities such as WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) are available in relief camps, isolation, and quarantine areas. Waste control management needs to be carried out appropriately for the proper disposal of the menstrual products used.
Person-to-person exposure should be minimal. Hence security steps for contactless methods approaches must be undertaken when fostering knowledge by the caregivers to educate patients for menstrual hygiene at healthcare facilities.
To avoid stock-outs and supply-chain disruption introducing new practices would ensure the availability of menstrual products and painkillers at health care facilities and quarantine centres.
Initiatives for social welfare and upliftment
UNICEF has recommended that government agencies around the world should ensure that menstrual hygiene products get labelled as "essential goods" and that adequate supplies are maintained.
It is commendable to know that the Indian Government has defined sanitary napkins as essential goods for removing barriers to supply chain disruption.
The Central Government of India has ensured that 'Suvidha sanitary pads' are accessible at 'Jan-Aushadi Kendras' under the umbrella of PMJAY-Pradhan Mantri Jan-Aushadi Yojana across the nation at Re.1 per pad. Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge and literacy becomes a huge deterrent.
The lockdown also affected a rise in the number of non-governmental organizations that distribute sanitary pads free of charge. Several programs are appreciated to provide women hygienic reusable sanitary napkins. Ranjana Prasad, a member of the "Delhi Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child Act,2005" also distributed around 1.48 lakhs of sanitary napkins(source) to child care institutions, night shelters, and slum clusters on an immediate basis, and has also included sanitary pads in ration kits to address the growing problem. The noble act is commendable and one can take inspiration from it.