AKU intervention dispels myths around menstruation

An intervention addressing menstrual health issues involving experts and members of the community in District Dadu, Sindh has resulted in a considerable increase in the use of a hygienic absorbent among non-users in the rural target community of Taluka Johi. Moreover, the project has succeeded in dispelling many of the myths and misconceptions regarding menstruation in the target area.

These views were expressed by scholars and experts speaking at a seminar on ‘Menstrual Health and Hygiene — a ne

glected agenda’, organised by the Aga Khan University’s Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health.

Dr Sidrah Nausheen, Assistant Professor Obstetrics and Gynaecology, described in detail AKU’s intervention on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) that was carried out in collaboration with the Swiss Red Cross in District Dadu. About 25,000 adolescent girls and women were provided knowledge and information on menstruation, menstrual cycle and importance and ways of hygiene management through awareness group sessions.

Common myths and misconceptions were also addressed during these sessions. Adolescent girls and women were also taught how to make a homemade reusable sanitary pad using cloths available at home.

This intervention also engaged men so that they could extend their support to women in terms of expenses, access to material and medical care regarding menstrual health issues like any other health concern.

Dr Nausheen further highlighted that the study showed poor baseline knowledge and practices regarding menstruation among adolescent girls and women as the vast majority of girls were uninformed about menstruation prior to menarche.

At baseline, the study showed that around 40 percent of menstruating adolescent girls and women did not use an absorbent. Following the intervention, non-users of absorbents reduced to 11 percent, meaning that 90 percent of adolescent girls and women are now using an absorbent in the study area. Now, 93 percent of adolescent girls and women in the study area are skilled to prepare a homemade reusable cloth pad for themselves.

There was a significant positive behavioural change among adolescent girls and women who previously used to avoid certain foods, bathing, and going outside of the house while menstruating. Similarly, there was a remarkable improvement in the practices of adolescent girls and women regarding taking care of their menstrual materials, like washing them with soap or detergent, drying in the sun and at a high, clean place, keeping it safe from dust and dirt.

The study demonstrated that the implementation of an intervention package that comprised educational sessions, and a low-cost, culturally acceptable absorbent made with locally available materials helped in improving the knowledge and practices of adolescent girls and women.

Moreover, MHM corners were established in the Taluka Headquarter (THQ) hospital Johi to attend to adolescent girls and women visiting the facility to educate and counsel them on improved MHM. Around four women healthcare providers (HCPs) of this facility were provided two weeks’ training by AKU. These trained HCPs played a key role in the delivery of healthcare services. The team of community health workers (women) and community health mobilizers (men) carried out activities in the field. Furthermore, a trained cadre of women and men MHM champions (local volunteers) was prepared to further disseminate knowledge and practices regarding menstrual hygiene in the community.

Dr Adil Haider, Professor and Dean, AKU Medical College, said that men can play an important role in supporting women to better take care of their menstrual health and related needs.

He thanked the project lead, Dr Sajid Soofi, Professor, Paediatrics and Child Health and Associate Director, Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health for highlighting such an important issue and presenting an effective and successful model to resolve the challenges faced by adolescent girls and women in rural Pakistan. He also extended his gratitude to the Sindh Health Department for helping to implement the project.

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