Penelope A. Phillips-Howard
Good hand hygiene contributes to the health and educational attainment of schoolchildren. Poor menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is recognized to impact on girls’ health, education, wellbeing and dignity, particularly in low-income countries. Identifying practical, affordable, and comfortable menstrual products to improve girls’ MHM is needed. One potential cost-effective product is the menstrual cup; however, provision of this insertable MHM product, in schools in low-income countries with challenging water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) conditions, increases the need for assurance of good hand hygiene. This paper uses data from a randomized controlled feasibility study evaluating the acceptability, use and safety of menstrual hygiene products provided to schoolgirls in rural western Kenya. Here, we explore girls’ handwashing practices in school when using menstrual cups, sanitary pads or traditional items, examining the availability of WASH and the reported frequency of handwashing. Data generated from interviews with adults, girls’ private surveys, narratives from focus group discussions, and observational WASH surveys are explored. Reported presence of WASH was higher than that observed during random spot-checks. Overall, 10 per cent of girls never washed before, and 7 per cent never washed after, emptying or changing their menstrual item at school. Girls in cup schools were twice as likely to wash prior to emptying, compared with girls using other items. Handwashing among girls using traditional items was low, despite the same hand hygiene training across groups and a comparable WASH presence. Data highlight the need for sustained mechanisms to support schoolgirls’ handwashing practices for MHM.
Schoolgirls’ experiences of changing and disposal of menstrual hygiene items and inferences for WASH in schools
Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) challenges during changing and disposal of menstrual items are important in low-income countries (LICs) where schools lack sufficient water and sanitation. Changing in poorly maintained latrines may expose girls to excrement and infection. We examine the frequency of dropping menstrual items and disposal of waste by schoolgirls in a menstrual solutions feasibility study in western Kenya. Drops when changing were reported in 17 per cent (20 per cent <16 years; 16.5 per cent 16 years plus; p=0.04) of girls’ reports overall. Differences by socio-economic status were not evident. Fifty-four per cent of girls dropped at least once. A quarter of girls using pads and cups reported drops in the first few months, reducing to 10 per cent over time, compared with ~30 per cent among traditional item users. One in four accidental drops occurred at school during the study. When dropped at school, most girls swapped the dropped item for a new one, but 24 per cent brushed/washed the item and reused it. While no clinical events occurred during this study, data suggest dropping within latrines could place girls at potential risk of exposure to infection. Disposal of items, or emptying cups, was mostly into the latrine. We conclude that accidental dropping of menstrual items while changing is common, including at school. Prevention will be helped by improving poorly constructed sanitation facilities, shelving, privacy, and staggering/increasing break time for girls to change. Provision of special garbage bins to prevent clogging and overflow of latrines is recommended.