Sunday December 15, 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

US Health Secretary Applauds Uganda’s Efforts to Control Spread of Ebola in East and Central Africa

Since June, Uganda has identified and isolated four Ebola victims who entered the country from the Democratic Republic of Congo

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FILE - Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks with reporters after a meeting about vaping with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sept. 11, 2019. VOA

U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services Alex Azar has applauded Uganda’s efforts to control the spread of Ebola in east and central Africa; however, while the U.S. remains the primary funder of Uganda’s health care sector, the secretary did not shy away from asking the East African country to find funds to independently sustain its health care budget. US.

Since June, Uganda has identified and isolated four Ebola victims who entered the country from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The monitoring has prevented the Ebola epidemic which has killed nearly 2,000 people in eastern Congo from crossing the border.

Secretary Azar is leading a U.S. delegation to Rwanda, the DRC and now Uganda regarding Ebola.

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Relatives of the 5-year-old boy who became Ebola’s first cross-border victim, and others, listen as village leaders and health workers educate them about Ebola, in Kirembo, Uganda, June 15, 2019. VOA

“There’s immense work that has had to be done in bolstering preparedness and response capacities. Screening those crossing the borders and responding to the discovery of cases. Uganda, particularly the Ministry of Health and Minister Aceng have risen to the occasion providing a model for the region,” said Azar.

The U.S. is a major financier of Uganda’s health sector, helping to combat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, Ebola and improve maternal and child health care.

In fiscal year 2018, the U.S. provided more than $511 million in health care funding.

Secretary Azar encouraged Uganda to be more self-sustaining.

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“And we have seen tremendous achievement in Uganda in terms of the building up of the public health system and health care infrastructure as a result of that partnership,” Azar said. “Now of course, overtime that needs to be more self-sustained. And that does require that Uganda invest its own resources also in the health care system.”

Ambassador Deborah Malac expressed confidence Uganda is capable of meeting its own health care needs.

“But one cannot expect that the U.S. government will be the donor of choice in this area, you know, in an open-ended future,” said Malac. “So, it really is about building its capacity and ultimately putting ourselves out of the assistance business.”

On Sunday, there were reports from Tanzania that a doctor who was studying in Uganda had died of a viral infection akin to Ebola. The Tanzanian ministry quickly came out and denied the allegations, calling them rumors.

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U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services Alex Azar has applauded Uganda’s efforts to control the spread of Ebola in east and central Africa. Pixabay

Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the World Health Organization representative in Uganda, expressed concern about the situation.

“This mysterious disease has to be investigated and samples have to be tested. We couldn’t rule out any of the viral hemorrhagic fevers and the investigations will continue,” Yonas said. “And we look forward of the Tanzanian government collaborating as per the International health regulations to address this issue.”

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Countries near Congo continue to be on high alert for any new cases of Ebola, with strict adherence to control guidelines set by the WHO. (VOA)