Friday December 14, 2018

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
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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)

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Uganda Readies Itself To Fight Off Ebola From The DRC Border

A 2007 Ebola outbreak in Uganda, in the border town of Bundibugyo, infected 149 people

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Health workers walk with a boy suspected of having been infected with the Ebola virus, at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, near Congo's border with Uganda. VOA

In Uganda, officials have stepped up measures to prevent an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Ebola has infected 319 people in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo since August, killing 198. The border between the countries remains open, and health experts fear the virus will enter Uganda through the cross-border traffic.

The Lamia River marks the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola-infected North Kivu Province and Uganda.

Despite the deadly viral outbreak, Uganda’s Health Ministry says 20,000 people cross the border every week, putting the country at high risk.

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Congolese health workers register people and take their temperatures before they are vaccinated against Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

Ugandan Jane Biira goes to the DRC side at least twice a week to buy food and charcoal to sell back home.

“We have heard the disease is there but, we have to go out and trade. We are only a little scared, because we have never seen anyone fall ill with Ebola where we go. We buy the merchandise and leave.”

When Biira and others cross into Uganda they get checked at screening points by health care workers and volunteers, like Boaz Balimaka.

“We have the hand-washing, then disinfecting the feet, and screening, then we allow somebody to pass.”

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A Congolese health worker checks the temperature of a man before the launch of vaccination campaign against the deadly Ebola virus near Mangina village, near the town of Beni in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

While no Ebola cases have yet been detected in Uganda, it can take up to three weeks for symptoms to appear.

The virus causes a severe hemorrhagic fever that kills at least half the people who become infected.

Even with border screenings, Butogo Town Council head John Kandole says they worry someone with Ebola could slip through.

“Somebody who comes from Congo, we don’t shake with him with hands. Once he comes to buy anything, he buy and go. And the money sometimes we have been fearing to get.”

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A World Health Organization (WHO) worker administers a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 21, 2018. VOA

Uganda’s Health Ministry is stepping up preventive measures by deploying an experimental Ebola vaccine for health care and front-line workers along the border.

Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda’s health minister, says vaccines are also on standy-by.

Also Read: Ebola Not a Global Health Emergency: WHO

“Currently, in Uganda we have 2,100 doses of the vaccine available at the National Medical Stores, and preparations are in high gear, including training of the health workers that are to be targeted.”

A 2007 Ebola outbreak in Uganda, in the border town of Bundibugyo, infected 149 people, killed 37, and took several weeks to be contained. (VOA)