A Simple Invention to Help Women’s Health

BBC News reports the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a school dropout in rural India who invented a technology that could vastly improve reproductive health for women. The user-friendly technology relies on simple machines to produce sanitary pads at a low cost, a boon for women unwilling or unable to pay for the higher-priced sanitary pads in stores.

[Muruganantham] discovered that hardly any women in the surrounding villages used sanitary pads – fewer than one in 10. His findings were echoed by a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12% of women across India use sanitary pads.

Muruganantham says that in rural areas, the take-up is far less than that. He was shocked to learn that women don’t just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.

Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don’t get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene – it can also affect maternal mortality.

Unable to get good data or volunteers to test his products, Muruganantham tested the pads himself. Ultimately, he devised a method that allows women to create and distribute the pads themselves.

Four-and-a-half years later, he succeeded in creating a low-cost method for the production of sanitary towels. The process involves four simple steps. First, a machine similar to a kitchen grinder breaks down the hard cellulose into fluffy material, which is packed into rectangular cakes with another machine.

The cakes are then wrapped in non-woven cloth and disinfected in an ultraviolet treatment unit. The whole process can be learned in an hour.

Muruganantham’s goal was to create user-friendly technology. The mission was not just to increase the use of sanitary pads, but also to create jobs for rural women.

Muruganantham’s design has since won a national innovation award, and inspired a documentary about his project. He plans to expand to over 100 countries.

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  1. carlosmx37 says:

    In rural Mexico “pueblos”,and villages, I had understood that feminine hygiene products are not bought because even at ten cents a piece, many times there is not money available.

    ( in popular urban areas,sanitary pads and disposable diapers are also sold by the piece),.

    Well,these women used -until recently-, for their menstrual higiene newspaper improved pads.

    Guess what are They doing nowadays that printed newspapers are dissapearing ?

    Returning to materials their grandmothers used a hundred years ago!

    Unfortunately.

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  2. M says:

    I’m glad you posted this story. Mr. Muruganantham’s persistence over many years with everyone turning against him is astonishing. What an incredible service he has done for Indian women.

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  3. James says:

    Perhaps I don’t want to know this, but I can’t help but wonder exactly how HE managed to test the pads himself.

    I’m also curious as to why some of those other substances are necessarily unhygenic. Ash should be perfectly sterile, after all, and sawdust is basically cellulose…

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    • Shane L says:

      James the BBC article explains his fascinating methodology:

      “He created a “uterus” from a football bladder by punching a couple of holes in it, and filling it with goat’s blood. A former classmate, a butcher, would ring his bicycle bell outside the house whenever he was going to kill a goat. Muruganantham would collect the blood and mix in an additive he got from another friend at a blood bank to prevent it clotting too quickly – but it didn’t stop the smell.

      He walked, cycled and ran with the football bladder under his traditional clothes, constantly pumping blood out to test his sanitary pad’s absorption rates. Everyone thought he’d gone mad.”

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  4. rad says:

    This is such a ‘freaky’ co-incidence. i have just started reading superfreakonomics and there was mention of the whole how pathetic the status of women in India is and while I whole heartedly agree with that, i had decided to email this very article to you because despite everything there are men like him too who are trying to help women out here and deserve to be acknowledged. But i guess you already know ha

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