Sunday April 21, 2019

Girls in Uganda Make Reusable Sanitary Pads to Stay in School

During the 2016 election campaign, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni pledged to buy sanitary towels for girls in need; but the Government lacks fund

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Girls at the Parents Care Infant Academy, including 14-year-old Catherine Nantume, are sewing a reusable sanitary towel in Makindye Kampala, VOA

Kampala, April 8, 2017: Providing sanitary pads to schoolgirls is a controversial subject in Uganda.

During the 2016 election campaign, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni pledged to buy sanitary towels for girls in need. The government estimates that 30 percent of Ugandan girls from poor families miss school because of lack of sanitary towels.

But in February this year, the first lady, who is also the minister for education, told parliament the government didn’t have enough funding for the president’s $4.4 million initiative.

This angered Makerere University researcher Stella Nyanzi, who created Pads for Girls Uganda on the social media site Facebook to collect donations of sanitary towels. Soon, however, she found herself in a police interrogation room accused of insulting the first lady online.

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“The interrogation was about four hours,” Nyanzi said. “By the time I was out, my sister, who had my mobile phone number, said, ‘By the way, you are almost getting to your one million pads.’ The following day was Women’s Day and, surprisingly, we got one million sanitary pads within two days.”

Nyanzi continues to push the government to make sanitary pads for girls a priority. Public debate about the subject continues, and the government recently announced that sanitary pads are now to be sold free of value-added tax.

Girls at the Parents Care Infant Academy, in the slum area of Makindye, have taken matters into their own hands.

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At the back of the class, there are four sewing machines that students use to make reusable sanitary towels. Large pieces of pink cloth are laid on the table as some of the girls carefully measure and cut, then place a piece of cotton in between and stitch with pins. Ready to be sewn, it is then passed onto the tailors, who include 14-year-old Nantume Catherine.

“Oh, this hole, it’s used to put there cotton, that cotton to hold blood to not come out. You remove it, you throw and you wash it through this hole,” she said.

Sarah Sanyu is the headmistress of the school.

“It was very, very difficult for these girls to stay in public without having these pads,” Sanyu said, “so when we got this idea of making sanitary pads, we bought the materials for ourselves, then we got someone to come and teach us.”

The school also held a special class to teach the girls about menstruation.

Some question the cleanliness of reusable pads, but health officials assure VOA they are safe if properly washed with soap and water. However, access to clean water is not a guarantee in some parts of Uganda.

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So important are sanitary pads to keeping girls in school that the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) has distributed 50,000 disposable pads in 14 districts of Uganda since November of 2015.

“It has been very difficult to keep girls in schools, especially in Karamoja, where they have to use leaves,” said Dr. Edson Herbert Muhwezi, assistant representative at UNFPA Uganda. “There are no rags to use, some of them even sit in the sun hoping to dry. They are kept there isolated, staying four days and nights in the bush. It’s really dehumanizing.”

Nyanzi says that is unacceptable. She visits schools to pass out the pads donated to her  Facebook group, urging the girls not to let their circumstances hold them down. (VOA)

Next Story

WHO Makes Progress In Controlling Ebola In Congo

In addition, 2,600 health care workers in Uganda have been vaccinated.

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Health workers treat an unconfirmed Ebola patient inside a MSF (Doctors Without Borders)-supported Ebola Treatment Center (ETC) in Butembo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nov. 3, 2018. VOA

Six months after the outbreak of Ebola was declared in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province, the World Health Organization is expressing cautious optimism that it is making headway in controlling the spread of the deadly virus.

Latest figures reported by the WHO show 752 cases of Ebola, including 465 deaths.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, says progress in containing the spread of the virus is due to a number of public health measures, including the training of health workers on infection prevention and control, closer engagement with communities, case investigation and contact tracing.

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Medical staff are sterilized before entering the isolation unit at a hospital in Bundibugyo, western Uganda, on Aug. 17, 2018, where there is one suspected case of Ebola. VOA

She says the use of a vaccine and promising new drugs have been a boon to these efforts.

“I feel optimistic,” Moeti said. “I am very clear that we need to continue this work. We need to make sure that in the places where we have made progress, we build on this progress and we do not go back. And, we are being very, very conscious of the fact that we need to invest to improve the preparedness both in the DRC areas that are highest at risk and, most importantly, in the surrounding countries that are at risk.”

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Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers talk to a worker at an isolation facility, prepared to receive suspected Ebola cases, at the Mbandaka General Hospital, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 20, 2018. VOA

The risk of the virus spreading to countries like Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan is very high because of the heavy cross-border traffic among the countries, Moeti said. However, she added, surveillance and preparedness activities have been enhanced on both sides of the border.

Also Read: WHO Calls for Accelerated Action To Eliminate Cervical Cancer

She says there is extensive monitoring at border crossings and improvements have been made in screening people for the virus. In addition, 2,600 health care workers in Uganda have been vaccinated. Moeti said a similar vaccination campaign began two days ago in South Sudan. (VOA)