By Beatrice Nyangoma
There is heated debate among Ugandan activists who think government has failed to prioritise menstrual hygiene among school going girls.
Others have reached an extent of fundraising for the cause. This follows Uganda’s minister of Education and sports Janet Museveni who also doubles as the first lady admitting that the government does not have funds for the pads.
During the 2016 campaigns, Uganda’s president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni pledged that he would prioritise provision of pads to the school going girls. But since his victory in February last year, the pads pledge never came to pass and the latest revelation by Mrs.Museveni indicates there is no hope of honoringit.
Research by Build Africa released in 2013 revealed the alarming statistics and impact this issue has on girl child retention in schools and completion. On average, the report revealed that of the 80 days allocated to a school term, 29.7% of the adolescent girls said they miss a minimum of four days per cycle.
This also includes examination days, important class presentations and the introduction of new topics. Another 24.3% of the girls spoken to admitted to being stigmatised whenever they soiled their uniforms and as a result, they opt to stay at home until after their periods.
But Health Journalists Network team hosted some of the partners with which government works to implement menstrual hygiene explained the options available for the girls to ensure good menstrual hygiene.
Pilot studies conducted by UNFPA and Straight Talk Foundation about use of reusable pads indicate that actually more girls can stay in school if they are supplied with a pack of reusable pads.
UNFPA’s Dr. Edson Muhwezi says that pilot studies conducted in schools where they have supplied Afripads indicate that girls have not only stayed in school but the infection rates as a result of poor hygiene have also reduced significantly.
He however notes that their experience indicates that its not just provision of pads that really matters. There is also need to ensure that schools have access to water and washrooms that ensure the girls’ privacy.
“Girls who do not maintain proper menstrual hygiene risk contracting infections . Some of these girls for example those in the northern Uganda just sit under the sun as away of containing periods.Even where we have given the girls pads, we find ways of ensuring that they have a water source and washrooms.” he said
Godfrey Walakira an official from Straight Talk Foundation notes that currently they are conducting a study in over 750 schools targeting 52,000 girls with an aim of understanding the impact of pads.
“The girls have been given reusable pads but even before the end of the study, preliminary results indicate that there is a great impact. So imagine if every girl could access these pads?
As partners we would also want to reach to every girl but we are limited by resources. We have proven it that reusable pads is a solution to menstrual hygiene, the government should pick a lesson or two from the various studies conducted.”he said
Afripads were brought to the market to help many less privileged girls to stay in schools. Each pack contains three medium sized pads and another large one for the girls to use during the night.
Interestingly, this one pack can be used for over one year since each of the pads can be washed and dried just like what one does to the panties.