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Menstrual Hygiene Management and Waste Disposal in Low and Middle Income Countries—A Review of the Literature

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Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) has gained some attention and several literature reviews have been published. However, both original papers and reviews tend to focus on absorbent access and use and not on the disposal of menstrual waste. This review aims to fill a gap in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector by bringing a focus specifically on menstrual hygiene safe disposal in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). We reviewed published literature since 2002 on menstrual hygiene with a focus on menstrual waste management and menstrual absorbent disposal in LMIC. Database searches were conducted of both peer reviewed literature and grey literature, in addition to hand searching of references of relevant earlier literature reviews. In total 152 articles and reports were identified and 75 met the inclusion criteria and was included in the final review. Existing polices on MHM was also reviewed with a focus on India and South Africa. The review showed that disposal of menstrual waste is often neglected MHM and sanitation value chains, leading to improper disposal and negative impacts on users, the sanitation systems and the environment. Findings call for further research to gain better understandings of MHM waste streams, disposal behaviors, absorbent materials and waste management technologies to deliver health, safety, mobility and dignity for women and girls.
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International Journal of
Environmental Research
and Public Health
Review
Menstrual Hygiene Management and Waste Disposal
in Low and Middle Income Countries—A Review of
the Literature
Myles F. Elledge 1,*, Arundati Muralidharan 2, Alison Parker 3, Kristin T. Ravndal 4,
Mariam Siddiqui 5, Anju P. Toolaram 3and Katherine Pierson Woodward 5
1Health and the Environment, Biomass Controls, Durham, NC 27701, USA
2Water Aid India, New Delhi 110029, India; arundatimuralidharan@wateraid.org
3Cranfield Water Science Institute, School of Water, Energy and Environment, Cranfield University,
Cranfield MK43 0AL, UK; a.parker@cranfield.ac.uk (A.P.); anju.p.toolaram@cranfield.ac.uk (A.P.T.)
4RTI International India, New Delhi 110037, India; kristin.t.ravndal@cranfield.ac.uk
5RTI International, Seattle, WA 98104, USA; msiddiqui@rti.org (M.S.); kwoodward@rti.org (P.W.)
*Correspondence: myles@biomasscontrols.com
Received: 7 September 2018; Accepted: 1 November 2018; Published: 15 November 2018
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Abstract:
Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) has gained some attention and several literature
reviews have been published. However, both original papers and reviews tend to focus on absorbent
access and use and not on the disposal of menstrual waste. This review aims to fill a gap in the
water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector by bringing a focus specifically on menstrual hygiene
safe disposal in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). We reviewed published literature since
2002 on menstrual hygiene with a focus on menstrual waste management and menstrual absorbent
disposal in LMIC. Database searches were conducted of both peer reviewed literature and grey
literature, in addition to hand searching of references of relevant earlier literature reviews. In total
152 articles and reports were identified and 75 met the inclusion criteria and was included in the
final review. Existing polices on MHM was also reviewed with a focus on India and South Africa.
The review showed that disposal of menstrual waste is often neglected MHM and sanitation value
chains, leading to improper disposal and negative impacts on users, the sanitation systems and the
environment. Findings call for further research to gain better understandings of MHM waste streams,
disposal behaviors, absorbent materials and waste management technologies to deliver health, safety,
mobility and dignity for women and girls.
Keywords:
water and sanitation; gender; menstrual hygiene management; menstrual hygiene waste
disposal; environmental health; sanitary waste
1. Introduction
Women and men have specific sanitation needs, preferences, access requirements, and utilization
patterns and experiences [
1
]. Women also use toilet facilities to manage their menstruation.
Good menstrual hygiene practices means that women and adolescent girls are using a clean menstrual
management material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, that can be changed in privacy as often
as necessary for the duration of a menstrual period, using soap and water for washing the body as
required, and having access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used menstrual management
materials [
2
]. Poor menstrual hygiene management (MHM) can negatively impact the health and
psycho-social well-being of women and girls [
3
5
]. Menstrual hygiene management in the water and
sanitation sector is not formally defined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However,
clear linkages are framed here to include: SDG3 (physical health and psycho-social well-being for
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562; doi:10.3390/ijerph15112562 www.mdpi.com/journal/ijerph
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 2 of 19
women and girls), SDG4 (quality education for girls), SDG5 (gender empowerment and equality), SDG6
(water and sanitation), and SDG12 (responsible consumption and production for the environment).
A woman menstruates between puberty (age 11–24) and menopause (age 45–55) for an estimated
459 cycles during her lifetime [
6
]. With rapid urbanization, rising incomes, expanded product
availability and distribution, and increased mobility, the use of disposable sanitary napkins is increasing
rapidly [
7
]. A PATH study estimated that the annual solid waste load of disposable sanitary napkins
was higher than any other menstrual hygiene product—i.e., 44,254 cm
3
/female/year [
8
]. Shared and
public facility maintenance is frequently a source of environmental health risks due to poor hygiene.
In countries where there are many stigmas and taboos around menstruation, poor waste management
on-site creates anxiety and stress. This facility maintenance concern combined with the fact that urban
waste collection systems are problematic in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) creates
exposure risks and environmental pollution in dense urban areas.
Few articles discuss or define what appropriate or safe disposal and management of menstrual
waste entails. An underlying reason could be the lack of clarity and consensus over how menstrual
waste is classified (for instance, as solid waste, hazardous waste, or bio-medical waste), which makes
it difficult to offer clear guidance on how best to discard used products, leading to inappropriate and
unsafe disposal practices [
9
] House [
4
] notes that menstrual hygiene friendly infrastructure includes
“clear mechanisms for collecting and disposing of menstrual waste,” but does not elucidate what these
mechanisms could be. Incorporating MHM considerations to include waste management into WASH
sector planning will advance goals to ensure safety, dignity, and deliver demand-generated designs
for women and girls by responding comprehensively to their biological needs [
10
]. Better MHM
is important for sanitation access, sustained facility use, and for gender equity. Improved access to
culturally acceptable MHM in sanitation facilities enables women and girls to fully engage in education
and at the workforce [11].
Toilet facilities designed to accommodate menstrual hygiene practices, provide access to
absorbents, and encourage safe handling and disposal of used absorbents are important measures
supporting women’s health and dignity. In the design of communal toilets, disposal of menstrual
waste has often been overlooked, leading to improper waste disposal [
8
,
12
]. To improve this situation
in the future, knowledge of the variety of current menstrual materials is required. For example,
if thermal treatment technologies are considered, these will need to be optimized for different materials.
Disposing of menstrual blood can have particular cultural considerations, and the breadth of these
needs to be fully understood before designing a technology.
This paper examines peer-reviewed and grey literature about menstrual waste disposal, with the
aim to inform water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programming on better facility user designs
and waste management practices to support the menstrual hygiene needs of women and girls,
and the environment. The paper does not attempt to review the broad topic of municipal solid
waste management, but maintains a narrow focus on menstrual hygiene waste and waste management.
This paper addresses topics of menstrual absorbent use, and brings a unique focus on disposal practices,
waste treatment strategies such as incineration, the health and environmental risks associated with
disposal, and policy guidance on menstrual waste management. The focus on urban populations is
prioritized given the higher public and environmental risks associated with poor waste management
in heavily used shared spaces in densely populated areas. From a policy perspective, India and South
Africa were a primary focus given these countries large sanitation needs, and their emerging strong
commitment to addressing sanitation conditions.
2. Methodology
A structured search was performed to identify journal articles, reports, and other grey literature
related to menstrual hygiene management and disposal of absorbents. Grey literature was included in
the search due to the anticipated limited amount of peer-reviewed literature available specifically on
menstrual waste disposal. The search took place in October through November of 2017 and included
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 3 of 19
literature published in the past 15 years (since 2002). The primary focus of the search was on disposal
and management of menstrual waste. Specific topics included: types of absorbents used and disposal
practices in urban and peri-urban areas of developing countries; socio-economic factors influencing
disposal practices; safe disposal’s influence on empowerment and dignity, as well as sanitation
practices; environmental and public health risks from menstrual waste; health and environmental risks
from incineration; cultural factors related to use and acceptance of incineration; disposal practices in
public and institutional settings in the developing world; and policies or guidelines for menstrual
waste disposal.
2.1. Search Strategy
A database full text search was performed to identify relevant peer-reviewed journal articles.
Databases searched included PubMed, Web of Science, Google Scholar, EMBASE, Conference Papers
Index, and Scopus. New York Academy of Medicine Grey Literature Database (NYAM or greylit.org)
was also included in the database search. An environmental scan for additional grey literature was
performed using Google.com, and by directly searching targeted websites of relevant organizations
to identify additional reports not already identified through the database and Google searches
(e.g., Cranfield MSc thesis database, WEDC database, and organization websites such as PATH
and WaterAid).
Key words used to create database search strings included: Menstrual hygiene management,
Menstrual hygiene waste management, Menstrual waste management, Menstrual hygiene
management disposal, Menstrual waste disposal, Menstrual hygiene management disposal practice*,
Menstrual waste disposal practice*, Menstrual hygiene, management disposal technolog*, Menstrual,
waste disposal technolog*, Menstrual hygiene management incineration, Menstrual waste incineration,
Menstrual hygiene management absorbent, Menstrual absorbent, Menstrual hygiene management
health, Menstrual hygiene management risk. The search strategies included a combination of these
keywords, including relevant database specific subject terms such as Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
in PubMed. An example search string included: (menstrual OR menstruation) AND (waste* OR
hygiene) AND (manag* OR dispos* OR disposal OR “disposal practice*” OR “disposal technolog*”
OR incinerat* OR burn* OR absorbent* OR superabsorbent* OR health* OR risk*). The bibliographies
of relevant review articles identified through the database search were hand searched to identify
additional relevant articles for inclusion.
Literature from the searches was compiled and 152 article abstracts were screened for initial
inclusion using the screening criteria outlined below in Figure 1. A set of full text articles and reports
were then reviewed for literature meeting the inclusion criteria after abstract review. In cases of
uncertainty, a second person reviewed the article and a decision was jointly made on inclusion.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15, x 3 of 19
on disposal and management of menstrual waste. Specific topics included: types of absorbents used
and disposal practices in urban and peri-urban areas of developing countries; socio-economic factors
influencing disposal practices; safe disposal’s influence on empowerment and dignity, as well as
sanitation practices; environmental and public health risks from menstrual waste; health and
environmental risks from incineration; cultural factors related to use and acceptance of incineration;
disposal practices in public and institutional settings in the developing world; and policies or
guidelines for menstrual waste disposal.
2.1. Search Strategy
A database full text search was performed to identify relevant peer-reviewed journal articles.
Databases searched included PubMed, Web of Science, Google Scholar, EMBASE, Conference Papers
Index, and Scopus. New York Academy of Medicine Grey Literature Database (NYAM or greylit.org)
was also included in the database search. An environmental scan for additional grey literature was
performed using Google.com, and by directly searching targeted websites of relevant organizations
to identify additional reports not already identified through the database and Google searches (e.g.,
Cranfield MSc thesis database, WEDC database, and organization websites such as PATH and
WaterAid).
Key words used to create database search strings included: Menstrual hygiene management,
Menstrual hygiene waste management, Menstrual waste management, Menstrual hygiene
management disposal, Menstrual waste disposal, Menstrual hygiene management disposal practice*,
Menstrual waste disposal practice*, Menstrual hygiene, management disposal technolog*, Menstrual,
waste disposal technolog*, Menstrual hygiene management incineration, Menstrual waste
incineration, Menstrual hygiene management absorbent, Menstrual absorbent, Menstrual hygiene
management health, Menstrual hygiene management risk. The search strategies included a
combination of these keywords, including relevant database specific subject terms such as Medical
Subject Headings (MeSH) in PubMed. An example search string included: (menstrual OR
menstruation) AND (waste* OR hygiene) AND (manag* OR dispos* OR disposal OR “disposal
practice*” OR “disposal technolog*” OR incinerat* OR burn* OR absorbent* OR superabsorbent* OR
health* OR risk*). The bibliographies of relevant review articles identified through the database
search were hand searched to identify additional relevant articles for inclusion.
Literature from the searches was compiled and 152 article abstracts were screened for initial
inclusion using the screening criteria outlined below in Figure 1. A set of full text articles and reports
were then reviewed for literature meeting the inclusion criteria after abstract review. In cases of
uncertainty, a second person reviewed the article and a decision was jointly made on inclusion.
Figure 1. Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria for Literature Review.
Figure 1. Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria for Literature Review.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 4 of 19
2.2. Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria
The search was global, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries. For the database
search, only full text articles published in English since 2002 were included. Letters to editor,
op-eds, and editorials were excluded. For the grey literature search using Google, reports, reviews
and other articles were included. Presentations, op-ed pieces, and letters to editor were excluded.
Inclusion/exclusion criteria are shown in Figure 1.
2.3. Search Results
The search process flow and results are summarized in Figure 2. The database search returned
74 articles. An additional 16 articles were identified through grey literature searches, and 62 articles
were identified through hand searches of review article reference lists, for a total of 152 articles.
After abstract screening, 65 articles were excluded from further review for reasons of not mentioning
menstrual absorbents or disposal (14 articles), having primarily a rural focus (33 articles), and other
reasons such as a focus on product development and safety, a focus on disasters or emergencies,
acceptance studies or intervention studies for a specific type of absorbent, and training materials
(18 articles). After full text review, another 12 articles were excluded for reasons of not mentioning
menstrual absorbents or disposal (6 articles), having a primarily rural focus (2 articles), and other
reasons such as not providing data or new information, not disaggregating urban and rural data,
and describing a product but not the use or behavior associated with it (4 articles). A total of 75 articles
were included in the final review.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15, x 4 of 19
2.2. Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria
The search was global, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries. For the database
search, only full text articles published in English since 2002 were included. Letters to editor, op-eds,
and editorials were excluded. For the grey literature search using Google, reports, reviews and other
articles were included. Presentations, op-ed pieces, and letters to editor were excluded.
Inclusion/exclusion criteria are shown in Figure 1.
2.3. Search Results
The search process flow and results are summarized in Figure 2. The database search returned
74 articles. An additional 16 articles were identified through grey literature searches, and 62 articles
were identified through hand searches of review article reference lists, for a total of 152 articles. After
abstract screening, 65 articles were excluded from further review for reasons of not mentioning
menstrual absorbents or disposal (14 articles), having primarily a rural focus (33 articles), and other
reasons such as a focus on product development and safety, a focus on disasters or emergencies,
acceptance studies or intervention studies for a specific type of absorbent, and training materials (18
articles). After full text review, another 12 articles were excluded for reasons of not mentioning
menstrual absorbents or disposal (6 articles), having a primarily rural focus (2 articles), and other
reasons such as not providing data or new information, not disaggregating urban and rural data, and
describing a product but not the use or behavior associated with it (4 articles). A total of 75 articles
were included in the final review.
Figure 2. Literature Search Process Flow.
Figure 2. Literature Search Process Flow.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 5 of 19
Articles were categorized into relevant topic areas and are discussed according to these topics in
this review paper. Topic areas include:
MHM waste management and disposal practices (50)
Incineration (15) and public or institutional settings (33)
Types of absorbents used (53)
Environmental, public health, or women’s health risk of menstrual waste (18)
Safe disposal’s influence on empowerment, dignity, or sanitation practices (10)
Policies and guidelines for menstrual waste disposal (12)
Review findings for of these topic areas are described in the following sections.
3. Types of Absorbents Used
At the core of MHM is the use of menstrual hygiene products, a component intimately linked
with disposal preferences and practices. These materials are required to absorb or collect menstrual
blood safely, comfortably and discreetly. This literature review revealed no universally acceptable
classification or typology of menstrual hygiene products; categorization can be according to type,
quality characteristics or hygiene parameters. Thus, for the purpose of this review, we have grouped
menstrual hygiene products into sanitary napkins of commercial products such as disposable sanitary
pads or low cost such as locally made reusable pads; traditional absorbents such as cloth, clothing,
cotton wool, toilet paper; and/or unconventional commercial products such as tampons and menstrual
cups (Table S1). Supplemental details on the literature reviewed on menstrual absorbents is outlined
in Table S2, and Figure 3maps studies by country. The quality of the menstrual hygiene product
is judged by factors like leak protection, absorbency capacity, dryness, product comfort and size,
thinness, allergies and biodegradability [
13
]. Some authors defined menstrual hygiene products either
as hygienic (e.g., sanitary pads) or as unhygienic absorbents (e.g., cloth, tissue papers and cotton wool)
based on whether their use may cause infections [
3
,
14
16
]. However, Sumpter and Torondel [
3
] state
that the hygienic use of absorbents, whereby they are washed and dried properly, is what is critical.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15, x 5 of 19
Articles were categorized into relevant topic areas and are discussed according to these topics
in this review paper. Topic areas include:
MHM waste management and disposal practices (50)
Incineration (15) and public or institutional settings (33)
Types of absorbents used (53)
Environmental, public health, or women’s health risk of menstrual waste (18)
Safe disposal’s influence on empowerment, dignity, or sanitation practices (10)
Policies and guidelines for menstrual waste disposal (12)
Review findings for of these topic areas are described in the following sections.
3. Types of Absorbents Used
At the core of MHM is the use of menstrual hygiene products, a component intimately linked
with disposal preferences and practices. These materials are required to absorb or collect menstrual
blood safely, comfortably and discreetly. This literature review revealed no universally acceptable
classification or typology of menstrual hygiene products; categorization can be according to type,
quality characteristics or hygiene parameters. Thus, for the purpose of this review, we have grouped
menstrual hygiene products into sanitary napkins of commercial products such as disposable
sanitary pads or low cost such as locally made reusable pads; traditional absorbents such as cloth,
clothing, cotton wool, toilet paper; and/or unconventional commercial products such as tampons and
menstrual cups (Table S1). Supplemental details on the literature reviewed on menstrual absorbents
is outlined in Table S2, and Figure 3 maps studies by country. The quality of the menstrual hygiene
product is judged by factors like leak protection, absorbency capacity, dryness, product comfort and
size, thinness, allergies and biodegradability [13]. Some authors defined menstrual hygiene products
either as hygienic (e.g., sanitary pads) or as unhygienic absorbents (e.g., cloth, tissue papers and
cotton wool) based on whether their use may cause infections [3,14–16]. However, Sumpter and
Torondel [3] state that the hygienic use of absorbents, whereby they are washed and dried properly,
is what is critical.
Figure 3. LMICs Country & Regions for Articles Reviewed on Menstrual Absorbents.
Studies across the urban areas of LMIC have reported sanitary pads, cloth and tissue paper as
the most commonly used menstrual hygiene products [3,17–20]. Additionally, products/absorbents
such as homemade pads, clothes, underwear, sponges and cotton wool were also cited [3,17–20] Table
Figure 3. LMICs Country & Regions for Articles Reviewed on Menstrual Absorbents.
Studies across the urban areas of LMIC have reported sanitary pads, cloth and tissue paper as the
most commonly used menstrual hygiene products [
3
,
17
20
]. Additionally, products/absorbents such
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 6 of 19
as homemade pads, clothes, underwear, sponges and cotton wool were also cited [
3
,
17
20
] Table S1
summarizes findings on the type of menstrual absorbents used in LMICS, and while these studies are
based on small samples, they reveal important trends in absorbent use. Studies from African countries
such as Ghana [
21
], Nigeria [
15
,
22
,
23
] and Egypt [
24
,
25
] indicated that girls in secondary school mainly
used sanitary pads. Schoolgirls from Malawi [
26
] and Ethiopia [
13
,
27
] primarily relied on cloth or
homemade pads. Asian countries showed greater use of cloth or clothes during menstruation (Table S1).
In particular, Anand et al. [
16
] studied census data (2007–2008) of India and presented the use of cloth
as the main menstrual hygiene product used by females aged 15–49 years. However, urban India saw
greater use of sanitary pads, a trend likely to increase in the future. [
7
] Studies done in Nigeria [
14
,
15
],
South Africa [
28
], Uganda [
29
] and in India [
7
] reported few tampon users. Trial studies for menstrual
cups were conducted in Zimbabwe [
30
] and South Africa [
28
] with positive feedback; yet the use
of insertable products such as tampons and menstrual cups may be hampered by cultural beliefs
around virginity and fertility [
1
,
7
,
29
,
31
] Cloth pads may be traditional, yet the disposable sanitary pad
is aspirational for users as it can offer protection against leakage and odor while being comfortable
and safe, though it is not always affordable [
20
,
26
,
29
,
32
] While sanitary pads offer comfortable and
leak-proof protection, the composition of pads (cellulose, super absorbent polymers, plastic) has
implications for disposal (Table S1) [13,17,20,26,31,32].
Affordability of pads, socio-cultural norms, knowledge, and variation in menstrual
flow shaped women and girls’ use of both pads and cloth or other traditional material
(Table S1) [7,14,15,17,19,25,29,3335].
Among secondary school girls in Zagazig City, Egypt, 44%
disclosed that they used sanitary pads for the first two days of their cycle when their menstrual
flow was heavier and switched to cloth for the last few days [
25
]. Girls in two studies in India preferred
to use sanitary pads at school and cloth at home [
35
,
36
]. Women and girls may change the type of
absorbents they use over time. Women in a study in Durban, South Africa have noted using cloth
when they were younger but used sanitary pads when older [37].
Several studies found statistical associations between hygienic practices (at least the use of
sanitary pads) and factors such as age, type of schooling, education of mother/father, residential status,
social class, economic status, occupation of parents, mass media exposure, as well as knowledge and
training (Table S1). In an urban resettlement area of New Delhi, the use of sanitary pads were more
likely to be associated with young women (20–29 years old) rather than older women (
30 years
old) and with those whose mothers were better educated, as they provide more information to the
girls [
38
]. Among secondary school girls in Mansoura, Egypt sanitary pads were associated with higher
social class, urban residence, and exposure to mass media [
24
]. Some studies reported that students
in private schools used sanitary pads more than their counterparts in government schools [
15
,
39
],
possibly because the former may be from wealthier families [20].
Although, this review found studies where the authors alluded to these socio-economic and
socio-cultural factors associating with the hygiene practices within their study sample, it also revealed
that this association sometimes lacks quantitative evidence relying on qualitative and descriptive
reasoning (Table S3). Thus, this review highlights the paucity of detailed and controlled studies
exploring these relationships that can contribute towards more generalized conclusions to feed into
intervention programs and public policies. Similarly to Kuhlmann and colleagues, this review also
emphasizes clusters of studies on MHM in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia with less studies in
other low income regions of the world [
20
]. Thus, revealing a need for widening global research
efforts on MHM since women and girls’ menstrual absorbent preferences and usage patterns are
diverse, with possible influences based on location, activity, age, culture, and socio-economic status.
Understanding practices and preferences for absorbent disposal is an essential part of the menstrual
hygiene value chain.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 7 of 19
4. Menstrual Waste Disposal Practices
Against the backdrop of menstrual hygiene product use, this review examined how used products
are discarded and the factors affecting disposal practices. Women and girls face constraints during
menstruation that determines how and where they dispose of menstrual absorbents.
Sommer et al. [
17
] and Kjellen et al. [
12
] provide a framework for understanding the disposal
of menstrual waste in the context of sanitation systems, calling attention to the various interaction
points across the sanitation value chain from the toilet, to waste collection, conveyance, treatment and
disposal of excreta.
Table S4 shows the wide variety of ways that women and girls currently dispose of used
menstrual absorbents, including throwing them in the open and in latrines, burning, or burying
them, and through routine waste disposal systems, with disposal practices often influenced by deeply
embedded socio-cultural norms and taboos related to menstruation and menstrual blood. Findings
from a systematic review and meta-analysis study in India suggest that unsafe disposal practices
such as throwing absorbents in open spaces and burning (likely open burning, not incineration)
was significantly higher in community-based studies (especially in rural and slum settings) than in
school-based studies, and that reliable solid waste disposal was more common in urban settings than
in rural settings [
7
]. These results suggest that menstrual waste disposal may be more challenging
in community settings than in institutional settings because the facilities are not as well managed,
further highlighting variations in disposal practices within urban areas, with slum-based studies
reporting inappropriate disposal more than urban-focused studies per se. Discarding used menstrual
absorbents in latrines was noted in school-based studies, particularly when girls lacked access to
dustbins. Two studies among schoolgirls in Ethiopia note particularly high rates of disposal in latrines
at 69.3% [
40
] and 77.5% [
27
]. In low-income communities in Bangladesh, some women disposed of
their used cloth in drains and ditches, but others who were uncomfortable with disposing of menstrual
cloth in the open threw them in toilets, perceiving that as a discrete disposal option [41].
In a study of communal ablution blocks (CABs) in Durban (South Africa) none of the studied
CABs had bins for disposal within the toilets [
8
]. Dustbins with lids and liners installed inside the
toilet cubicles have been successfully tested in communal toilets in a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh [
41
],
and were a common request by women using CABs participating in the study by PATH [
8
]. However,
in South Africa, women reported that they do not throw used pads in the municipal dustbins as they
feared that dogs will dig out the used pads, and someone will see them and think poorly of them [
37
].
Some used an old paint tin or bucket with a lid held down by a stone in the yard to privately dispose
of used pads. Women who did not have any way to discard their pads keep them at home under their
bed for days until they found some way of discarding them with other household waste [
37
]. The type
of absorbent may influence how it is disposed. Nair et al. [
35
] highlight mixed use of cloth and pads
among female students in a South Indian city, noting that 76% of girls burned used cloth. While many
articles suggest that girls simply discard used materials as is (without any wrapping), a few studies
found that girls wrapped used pads in paper or plastic before disposing of them [
25
,
33
,
37
], and this
practice is being promoted on some absorbent manufacturers’ packaging or through solid waste
segregation strategies.
A few studies noted that poor water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, including disposal,
made it difficult for girls to manage their menses in school, yet few explicitly recognized the need
for disposal facilities as part of WASH or sanitation facilities in schools [
17
,
24
,
27
,
32
,
42
44
]. In Accra,
Ghana, Sommer and Ackatia-Armah [
18
] noted that schools had insufficient toilets, inadequate privacy
measures in toilets, and inadequate disposal facilities for used absorbents. In the Philippines, a UNICEF
study reported that toilet stalls rarely had dustbins and that girls were often asked to carry their trash
back home [32]. In Malawi, sanitary pad users found disposal “awkward” in the absence of dustbins
and incinerators, leading them to keep their used pads/cloth with them, under their bed [
26
]. In Nepal,
28.2% of girls noted the absence of disposal facilities in schools as a reason for missing school days,
especially on days when they had to change their absorbent more [
44
]. In Ethiopia, 69.3% of schoolgirls
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 8 of 19
reported feeling uncomfortable in school during menstruation primarily because they lacked a private
space to change their absorbents (39.2%), did not have access to water for washing (19.1%) and disposal
facilities (10%) [
40
]. Another study in Ethiopia found that 8.5% of girls shared that they remained
absent from school during menstruation because of the lack of disposal facilities for used pads and
cloth [
27
]. While there have been several studies of MHM in schools and communal studies, MHM in
workplaces is still an under researched topic [
10
]. In urban areas girls and women often work, travel
and live in overcrowded areas lacking privacy and hygienic spaces for MHM, including disposal
options [10].
Incineration is an option for managing disposal of menstrual waste, particularly in worksites,
schools and dormitory settings. It is a manner to achieve pathogen treatment, waste reduction and
on-site waste management. Incinerators properly vented and directly connected to the toilet room
by a chute provide an effective and discrete way of disposing of menstrual absorbents [
1
]. A small
number of papers on the use of incinerators in LMIC were identified in this review; this is most likely
due a lack of research conducted on the topic. A range of different technologies exist from basic
ceramic pots to complex systems with energy recovery, each having advantages and disadvantages
(Table S5). A number of factors have to be taken into consideration when selecting what type of
incinerator to use, including the types of absorbents used and their composition, where the incinerator
should be installed (e.g., household, communal toilet, institutional settings), the volume of waste to
be incinerated, appliance treatment temperatures, capacity, emissions, the budget available and the
capacity for operation and maintenance. Several examples of the technologies used were found to
be less complex incinerator technologies (clay pots, low cost locally made incinerators and electric
incinerators). In this review, no examples were found that use high temperature incinerators for
bio-medical waste or incinerators with waste to energy technology for managing disposal of menstrual
waste in developing countries.
Incinerators have been installed in settings such as households, [
45
,
46
] communal toilets, [
45
]
and schools [
12
,
26
,
47
49
]. In a study by Elawati [
47
] on incinerators in schools in Nepal, 46% of girls
felt that incinerator use was easy, while 5% were uncomfortable using the incinerator, and 49% had
not used the incinerator facilities yet [
47
]. Socio-cultural beliefs regarding the disposal and burning
of menstrual blood could be a reason for why some girls did not discard of used pads in the school
incinerator. Girls in one study noted several benefits of having an incinerator in the school including
ease of changing pads in schools (34%) and improved school sanitation facilities as a whole (42%),
suggesting a clear preference for incinerators in schools to discard menstrual waste as opposed to
other methods [
47
]. During a workshop, schoolgirls from Malawi noted the need for sanitary pads
(26%), water (17%), and incinerators (11.4%) to help them manage their menses better [
26
] While
incinerators are considered convenient and facilitate onsite disposal, there also are reports of broken
school incinerators not being used [
13
], problems with smoke and smell from simple incinerators in
schools [
12
], and concerns voiced about emissions released from incinerators [
50
,
51
]. Women using a
communal toilet in Tamil Nadu were reluctant to leave menstrual waste in communal bins as it was
unclear when the waste would be burned [
45
]. The majority of participants were comfortable with
communal incinerators, but the Tamil Nadu study found that incinerators installed in a communal
toilet were not in use due to a lack of signage [
45
]. In some communities, the burning of menstrual
blood is taboo, drawing on the belief that such actions will compromise a woman’s reproductive
capacity [
52
]. However, findings from Nigeria ran counter to socio-cultural norms that prohibit the
burning of menstrual blood in the country—over half the girls interviewed burned their pads, as they
believed this to be the only method that removed all traces of menstrual blood [
23
]. Privacy has often
been overlooked for the design and placement of incinerators [
17
]. To ensure privacy, incinerators
should have a chute directly from the toilet room to the incinerator; this design has been tested in
Tamil Nadu [49].
Across the world, girls and women are subject to anxiety and stress with the management of
menstrual waste. In many settings, a culture of silence and shame centers on the perception that
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 9 of 19
menstrual blood is dirty or impure [
19
]. Consequently, girls observe a number of restrictions during
menstruation and take measures to hide traces of menstrual blood. The sight of menstrual blood on
used absorbents is believed to cause harm to those who see it or come in contact with it, and some
fear that it may be used for black magic [
45
]. In order to remove traces of blood from absorbents,
girls may wash used pads [
39
,
52
], smear them with mud [
52
], wrap them in paper or in plastic
bags [
45
], or keep them until they can be discarded discretely [
36
,
37
,
53
]. Managing menstruation in
camps (e.g., refugee camps and camps for internally displaced persons) is challenging, and even when
dustbins are provided for waste, women may choose more discrete methods for disposal such as
burial [54]. The need for discretion may also explain why some throw pads in toilets [40,41].
4.1. Behavior Regarding Disposal
Disposable sanitary pads are more available than ever before, underscoring the need for disposal
facilities. Several interventions on menstrual hygiene management suggest that health education
and hygiene promotion activities in schools increased access to and use of disposable sanitary pads,
encouraged frequent changing of pads (2–3 times a day), or recommend disposal of used reusable
cloth after a few months of use. Assessments of two interventions found that more girls discarded
their cloth reusable absorbents after 3–4 months use as opposed to throwing them away after one a
year of use [
25
,
33
]. These studies also found that post intervention, more girls changed their cloth and
disposable sanitary products more frequently, reporting changing disposal pads 3–4 times a day after
the intervention [
25
,
33
]. In Nigeria, Aniebue et al. [
43
] found that girls who received pre-menarche
training were more likely to dispose of their used absorbents appropriately than those who had not
received training. A critical factor affecting disposal is the disconnect between water, sanitation and
hygiene facilities, and disposal, particularly in institutional settings. A few studies noted that poor
water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, including disposal, made it difficult for girls to manage
their menses in school, yet few explicitly recognized the need for disposal facilities a part of WASH or
sanitation facilities in schools [
17
,
24
,
27
,
32
,
42
44
]. In Accra, Ghana, Sommer and Ackatia-Armah [
18
]
noted that schools had insufficient toilets, inadequate privacy measures in toilets, and inadequate
disposal facilities for used absorbents and advocate for responsive WASH facilities in schools that can
enable girls to manage their menses more hygienically and with dignity.
4.2. The Effects of Disposal Practices on the Health and Wellbeing of Girls and Women, and the Environment
Poor menstrual hygiene practices, specifically unhygienic use of menstrual hygiene products,
can pose risks to women’s health, such as increased risk of urogenital infections, though scientific
evidence of this link is limited and does not provide concrete evidence of an association between
poor MHM and adverse health outcomes [
3
,
5
,
16
,
55
]. A systematic review by Sumpter et al. [
3
] found
that of the 11 studies looking at reproductive tract infections (RTI), seven found an increased risk
associated with “worse” MHM (defined differently for each study but generally meaning not using
disposable sanitary pads), one found the reverse to be true (an increased risk from using disposable
sanitary pads), and three found no association. Sumpter et al. [
3
] calculated an overall pooled OR of
1.07 (including only high-quality studies with laboratory-confirmed cases), which was not significant.
Three additional studies published since the Sumpter et al. (2013) [
3
] review are included here.
A case-control study by Das et al. [
5
] in Odisha, India found women who used reusable pads were
2.3 times more likely to have symptoms of urogenital infection and 2.8 times more likely to be diagnosed
(via laboratory confirmation) with at least one urogenital infection (bacterial vaginosis (BV) or urinary
tract infection (UTI)) than women using disposable pads. Controlling for environmental and other
confounding factors, the study found that increased wealth and space for managing menstruation were
protective for BV. Lower income, poor water access and lack of latrine in the household were associated
(though not significantly so) with testing positive for BV (AdjOR = 0.5) and BV/UTI (
AdjOR = 0.6
) [
5
].
A cross-sectional study in India by Balamurugan and Bendigeri [
55
] found similar results: 38% of
women who used cloths during menstruation had a laboratory-confirmed RTI such as BV compared to
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 10 of 19
15% of women who used sanitary pads. A study from Anand et al. [
16
] in India found that women
who used unhygienic methods during menstruation, including anything other than sanitary napkins
or locally made napkins, were 1.04 times more likely to report any symptom of RTI and 1.3 times
more likely to report abnormal vaginal discharge than women who used hygienic methods, such as
sanitary napkins. In rural India, there were statistically significant associations between type of
menstrual absorbent used and absenteeism among adolescent girls during menstruation (OR 1.43,
95% CI: 1.04–1.97; p< 0.001) due to inadequate disposal facilities at school [56].
A few studies in this review discussed the interactions between menstrual waste and sanitation
systems, noting that the disposal of used menstrual absorbent products in toilets is challenging for both
on site sanitation facilities and sewerage systems, particularly in urban areas [
8
,
12
,
17
]. Two attributes
of menstrual absorbents affect disposal with implications on the sanitation system: the type of material
(whether biodegradable, non-biodegradable, or mixed materials) and the type of use (single use or
reusable) [
8
,
37
]. Sewerage systems are designed to carry water and fecal matter; discarding solid
waste such as pads and cloth in toilets can block sewage pipes, pose challenges for wastewater
treatment plants, and can have significant cost and human resource and dignity implications. Onsite
sanitation facilities such as pit latrines are constructed to aid the breakdown of organic material.
The disposal of non-biodegradable pads and cloth made of synthetic materials runs counter to this
process, compromising the aerobic and anaerobic digestion processes that break down fecal matter
in the leach pit [
12
]. Further, when used absorbents are wrapped in plastic and disposed, it can slow
down if not disrupt the decomposition of biodegradable components of the pad [
12
]. In the case of
septic tanks, sanitary pads make emptying and cleaning challenging and cumbersome [
8
]. Disposable
sanitary pads made with super absorbent polymers (SAP) are particularly challenging as SAP absorbs
fluids, causing the pad to swell up and block sewer lines [
17
]. This has implications on the health and
social status of sanitation workers and cleaners who have to remove blockages from sewers and clean
septic tanks [
8
,
17
]. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, there are an average of 150 sewer blockages per month
costing the Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Corporation US$25,000; menstrual waste is a common
reason for this [
12
,
17
]. Similarly, in Eastern Kenya, the Mavoko Water and Sewerage Company reported
that menstrual pads constitute about 40 percent of the material cleared from blocked sewers [
12
,
17
].
The eThekwini Water and Sanitation utility in Durban, South Africa, reports frequent blockages of
the suction hoses used for pit emptying due in large part to presence of menstrual materials in the
latrines [12,17].
Current solid waste management laws in India require the waste generator to securely wrap
sanitary waste prior to disposal and require the product manufacturer to provide a wrapper for
disposal. To address these requirements, manufacturers have started providing plastic wrappers for
product disposal, but an unintended consequence of this is the increased burden on the environment
and waste management systems from the additional menstrual waste wrapping [
50
]. The Government
of India is promoting incineration of menstrual waste as a disposal method, which would help to
reduce environmental burden of menstrual waste if incinerators meet design and emission standards.
However, the lack of standards for small-scale appliances, the lack of oversight or enforcement of
emission regulations on incinerators, the potential risks resulting from inadequate emission control
measures or poor thermal treatment performance are concerning [51,57].
A potential health concern arising from incineration of menstrual waste is that certain components
of menstrual products may become toxic upon burning. For example, some versions of sanitary napkins
often contain chlorine bleach (to appear white in color), which emits dioxins, a human carcinogen
with developmental and reproductive effects [
58
], when burned at a low temperature [
17
]. Release
of dioxins and other toxins is minimized when menstrual waste is burned at a sufficiently high
temperature to ensure complete and efficient combustion [
17
]. For bio-medical health waste, the WHO
recommends that small-scale incinerators reach a temperature of at least 850
C according to EU and
South African standards or 1000
C based on Indian and Thai standards [
59
]. The European Waste
Incineration Directive recommends incinerators reach a temperature of at least 850
C for at least two
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 11 of 19
seconds to ensure full breakdown of toxic substances [
60
]. Specific guidelines on the incineration of
sanitary pads are lacking, and the same standards applied to medical waste may not be appropriate.
Additional research and better guidance are needed for stand-alone small-scale incinerators as many
of these guidelines are geared to larger appliances than are commonly used in institutional settings
or are mainly addressing medical waste and not menstrual waste. More research is needed to better
understand the risks posed to health and the environment from onsite incineration of menstrual
waste [17].
5. Policy Considerations
Clear-cut policy and guidelines for menstrual hygiene management, menstrual hygiene products
and waste disposal are quite limited in the review articles. Most articles reviewed in this search
focus on barriers and challenges experienced, yet few provide references to directives or operational
guidance on gender-informed interventions [
1
], good MHM practices or safe and hygienic absorbent
use, or policies governing disposal options and waste management practices in various settings,
including worksites [10].
Literature on the policy elements of menstrual hygiene management in WASH, and especially on
the topic of waste disposal and management is scarce. While a number of countries, such as India,
Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda, are putting in place better policies for menstrual hygiene,
few articles examine the impact of these policies on programs and practice particularly on the waste
management dimension.
A policy analysis for school WASH and MHM in India noted that MHM is factored into school
guidance, though often without implementation details or accounting for site or cultural nuances [
61
].
This lack of clear administrative responsibility extends to work sites as well; little guidance exists
to address the MHM needs of women and girls in their place of work [
10
]. Given the problems of
disposal in latrines and sanitation systems in terms of operations and maintenance (O&M) [
1
,
4
,
8
,
12
,
17
],
the O&M dimension is lacking in policy and guidelines for WASH facility management. India’s policy
directive on MHM have progressed since 2015, with National MHM Guidelines for schools released
in December 2015, and a draft resource document on menstrual waste management for rural areas
available as of 2018.
There is ambiguity around government stakeholder’s roles for sanitation in the context of MHM
policy and guidelines which may influence the level of attention to disposal. The health sector has
focused on public health education and absorbent access, the education sector on gender-segregated
toilets for schools and some health education, and other agencies on constructing rural or urban
sanitation facilities [
48
], highlighting a striking gap where no one agency gives full attention to all
dimensions of MHM to thoroughly address disposal practices and facilities.
Incinerators are a population waste-management solution in worksites and educational settings in
LMICs like India, yet global guidance or national policy to address thermal treatment of sanitary pads
is not clearly available. Where facilities for disposal are provided there are examples of successful [
47
]
and not so successful user adoption or quality facility O&M [
12
,
17
,
50
]. Directives on incineration
procurement as per quality standards, installation and operation are difficult to find from appliance
manufacturers, or from governments and schools that may deploy the technology. Guidance on
performance criteria and quality standards, the use of incinerators at-sites, and greater recognition
of cultural perceptions, stigma and taboos associated with menstrual disposal and the use of on-site
incinerators [12,62] could contribute to supportive use cases.
6. Discussion
Menstrual hygiene management in the water and sanitation can be linked to and supportive
of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 3 (physical health and psycho-social
well-being), 4 (quality education), 5 (gender empowerment and equality), 6 (water and sanitation),
11 (sustainable cities), and 12 (responsible consumption and production for the environment). As is
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 12 of 19
the case with MHM programs, addressing menstrual waste management calls for an inter-sectoral
approach across drawing upon the roles and strengths of the health, education, and sanitation sectors
(both government and non-government).
As we see more nuanced and responsive MHM and sanitation policies and programs in LMICs,
the findings of this review suggest important considerations related to absorbent use, waste disposal
guidance and practices, and the effect of disposal on the health and the environment that must
be integrated.
Menstrual hygiene product availability and use: The range of available menstrual hygiene
products, both disposable and reusable, creates opportunity for users to make choices in line with
their physical and contextual needs, and cultural and socio-economic circumstances (refer Table S1).
Disposable pads are of different types, some with added characteristics (e.g., scented, ultra slim,
superabsorbent, with added medicinal properties), and are favored in many settings for their
convenience and reliability. This sheer variety of disposable pads makes MHM a dynamic issue
with the diversity of menstrual waste being generated (refer Table S1). Greater knowledge of product
availability, use and disposal patterns will help facility planners and policy makers anticipate menstrual
waste streams and design appropriate washing and toilet spaces to accommodate those waste streams
and volumes.
New product developments and trials on reusable products (different types of pads made of cloth
and other materials, menstrual underwear, menstrual cups), and compostable disposable pads offer
the potential for reduced waste streams. However, standards and regulations for these products do not
exist in many countries, necessitating performance research to define quality standards to guide future
product development. The establishment of performance and quality standards for such products is
critical for hygienic use, and has important implications for disposal and waste management.
Menstrual waste guidance and practices: The review shows that menstrual waste management
is largely neglected in MHM and sanitation value chains, resulting in unguided and inappropriate
management at individual, community and institutional levels [
8
,
9
,
12
,
17
]. At present, menstrual
waste is discarded in safe and unsafe ways, posing difficulties to the user, sanitation systems and
the environment. There are individual case studies of the impact of inappropriate disposal on
both on-site and sewerage systems, though this does not yet translate into any documented impact
analysis, or broad changes in practice. Figure 4depicts the commonly observed disposal pathways
drawing attention to the implications of poor waste management on users, sanitation workers and the
environment. This figure further suggests the need for software (e.g., awareness, capacity building),
hardware (e.g., technology), and governance interventions at various levels of the waste management
value chain from the discarding used materials at the user level, the collection and management
of accumulated waste, and final treatment and disposal. Figure 4depicts the commonly observed
disposal pathways.
A central issue that underlies the governance or implementation of menstrual waste management
is how country governments categorize menstrual waste—it could be common household waste,
hazardous household waste (required to be segregated from routine household waste), biomedical
waste given the absorbed blood content, or plastic waste given the plastic content in many commercial
disposal pads. While the Indian government, under their Solid Waste Rules 2016, classifies sanitary
pads as solid waste, policy guidance on sanitary pad waste collection, handling, storage, transportation,
treatment through incineration or other methods need detailing. Clear categorization of waste streams
may be useful to direct public services for waste collection, or technology choices in institutional
settings for the recommendation of incineration, autoclave or microwave use to destroy pathogens
in menstrual waste. Furthermore, environmental standards and guidance need to address the fact
that commercial tampons and sanitary pads often contain chlorine and polyethene that may produce
dioxins and other potentially dangerous chemicals that could contribute to health concerns from air
emissions from combustion processes, or groundwater contamination as a result of leaching from
unlined landfills and sites where solid waste accumulates.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 13 of 19
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15, x 13 of 19
Figure 4. Waste disposal pathways and potential environmental and health hazards.
Effects of Disposal on Health and the Environment
The review looked for data linking inadequate waste management solutions and women’s
health, driven by whether the lack of disposal facilities affects how women use menstrual absorbents.
Studies investigating the link between MHM and women’s health outcomes largely rely on self-
reported outcomes (e.g., Anand et al. [16]) with a focus on absorbent (mostly cloth) use and not
disposal practices. Other more robust clinical studies are often cross-sectional and also focus on
absorbent use (e.g., Das et al. [5]), and thus cannot establish a causal link between menstrual hygiene
practices, particularly product use (including duration of use) and health outcomes. Public health
data on the health risks to sanitation workers and environmental health risks associated with
menstrual waste products and their pathogen load is not available in the reviewed literature. Despite
these limitations in the literature, review findings do allude to notion that it is not just the type of
absorbent used that affects women’s hygiene and health during menstruation, but how it they are
used, and facility factors such as having a private space, water, and soap to manage menstruation.
The use of laboratory-confirmed cases is a substantial improvement over self-reporting of symptoms,
and should include analysis that will help to establish the evidence base related to product use,
duration of use, and hygienic management.
The tradeoff between reducing environmental waste against potential health risks to girls and
women must be carefully considered when promoting waste management solutions. From a
womens health perspective, a variety of reusable or disposal pads may be safe if used well. The
promotion of disposable sanitary napkins versus reusable absorbents may be warranted given the
research showing increased incidence of urogenital infection in women using reusable pads,
regardless of washing, drying and storing practices [5], though more research is needed. From an
environmental perspective, reusable pads are more environmentally friendly, though they require
access to clean water and soap for proper washing, and drying facilities. Access to water and space
for drying is a real constraint in many poor urban settings which may increase risks for women in
Figure 4. Waste disposal pathways and potential environmental and health hazards.
Effects of Disposal on Health and the Environment
The review looked for data linking inadequate waste management solutions and women’s health,
driven by whether the lack of disposal facilities affects how women use menstrual absorbents. Studies
investigating the link between MHM and women’s health outcomes largely rely on self-reported
outcomes (e.g., Anand et al. [
16
]) with a focus on absorbent (mostly cloth) use and not disposal
practices. Other more robust clinical studies are often cross-sectional and also focus on absorbent
use (e.g., Das et al. [
5
]), and thus cannot establish a causal link between menstrual hygiene practices,
particularly product use (including duration of use) and health outcomes. Public health data on the
health risks to sanitation workers and environmental health risks associated with menstrual waste
products and their pathogen load is not available in the reviewed literature. Despite these limitations in
the literature, review findings do allude to notion that it is not just the type of absorbent used that affects
women’s hygiene and health during menstruation, but how it they are used, and facility factors such as
having a private space, water, and soap to manage menstruation. The use of laboratory-confirmed cases
is a substantial improvement over self-reporting of symptoms, and should include analysis that will
help to establish the evidence base related to product use, duration of use, and hygienic management.
The tradeoff between reducing environmental waste against potential health risks to girls and
women must be carefully considered when promoting waste management solutions. From a women’s
health perspective, a variety of reusable or disposal pads may be safe if used well. The promotion
of disposable sanitary napkins versus reusable absorbents may be warranted given the research
showing increased incidence of urogenital infection in women using reusable pads, regardless of
washing, drying and storing practices [
5
], though more research is needed. From an environmental
perspective, reusable pads are more environmentally friendly, though they require access to clean
water and soap for proper washing, and drying facilities. Access to water and space for drying is a
real constraint in many poor urban settings which may increase risks for women in some settings.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 14 of 19
Performance and quality standards for reusable menstrual products and compostable pads need to
be established to make these products a viable option for women in terms of their health and from a
waste reduction perspective.
Waste from disposable sanitary pads may be treated and waste loads reduced with the use of
incinerators. Incineration requires careful management of appliances to ensure complete combustion
and pathogen kill, safe operational temperatures, safe installation and controlled emissions or there
will be human environmental risks. Incineration is an approach found in many settings for managing
menstrual waste in institutional and shared public settings, though it has its own environmental risks
and cultural considerations. Incineration may not be acceptable for all jurisdictions and cultures.
Decentralized stand-alone incinerators on the market also provide little data on types of pads to be
burned, the temperatures or air flow that is prescribed for operation, or the expected emission controls
and emission levels. Incineration is an approach that aligns with decentralized waste treatment
approaches and systems, and may be an attractive solution for waste management particularly for
public toilet settings in communities where solid waste collection systems are weak and in institutional
settings (schools and worksites). However, simple incineration appliances may combust at low
temperatures, producing toxic emissions, and may be ineffective in killing pathogens. And on-location,
incineration appliances may not be installed properly to vent or exhaust air emissions outside of the
toilet block. Further, users and operators may not be trained or provided with adequate information to
safely operate the technology.
Engineers designing an incineration technology, and policy makers guiding the procurement and
installation of such technology need to know what menstrual products are used in order to design
efficient thermal treatment products.
7. Recommendations
The disposal of used absorbents cannot be understood and carried out in isolation, requiring
user-centered design thinking to consider socio-cultural norms regarding menstruation, product
availability, quality and use, and existing sanitation systems. In institutional and community settings,
the design of sanitation systems needs to be responsive to and plan for disposal of menstrual waste,
providing appropriate, discrete and safe solutions that minimize adverse health impacts on girls and
women, sanitation workers, and broader environmental consequences.
Our recommendations are framed around three levels of action: research, programs and policy.
7.1. Research to Inform Policy, Practice and Technology Development
Public and environmental health research confirming risks of pathogen transmission from waste
products disposed in the open or handled by waste or sanitation workers
Product research on composition and quality of disposable, compostable and reusable menstrual
products, and health effects of these products linked with additives and hygienic use (especially
duration of use)
Research to estimate the health and environmental effects of waste management strategies
(e.g., incineration, composting) on different types of products (e.g., emissions from incinerating
different types of sanitary pads)
Further research and development on thermal treatment strategies and technology, examining
incinerator types being used, their installation and maintenance, temperatures of operation,
and emissions from incinerators
In-country or country-specific operational research on use of incinerators for menstrual waste
management in public toilets and institutional settings (particularly schools and workplaces
where installations are most common)
Policy research on governments’ positioning of menstrual waste management, procurement
processes and budgetary allocations for menstrual waste solutions
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 15 of 19
7.2. Comprehensive MHM Programs to Address Product use and Menstrual Waste Disposal Practices in
Public Settings
MHM programs to include attention to informed product choice (whereby girls and women
are informed of the range menstrual hygiene products available, their hygienic use, and their
advantages and disadvantages), as well as information on and solutions for the safe management
of menstrual waste in community, institutional, and public settings. Innovative yet simple
behavior strategies to promote sound and appropriate disposal practices to be identified, tested,
and scaled up.
Attention to operations and maintenance of waste management solutions, especially incinerator
technologies in different settings, with appropriate and detailed training and guidance to operators
and institutions to ensure smooth and efficient functioning of technologies.
Clear articulation of and operational guidance on menstrual waste management from the time of
segregation and disposal by user, to collection, transportation, and final treatment and disposal of
waste products.
Implementation research and monitoring indicators for interventions to include attention to
menstrual waste management practices and solutions.
The unique menstrual hygiene needs of girls and women who are differently abled or in
vulnerable situations (e.g., disasters) including their needs and challenges with disposal to
be understood and considered within the scope of MHM programs in general, including waste
management strategies.
WASH and MHM sector actor to create global and national platforms for cross-learning and
knowledge sharing on the evolving menstrual hygiene product landscape and waste management
solutions, engaging industry, government and non-governmental stakeholders.
7.3. Policy Advocacy for Safe and Appropriate Management of Menstrual Waste
Menstrual waste management to be positioned as a critical issue relevant for all government
departments addressing MHM in various ways (through education, health, sanitation, women’s
empowerment/gender equity), with guidance on how government departments can coordinate
to aid comprehensive programming on MHM.
Government to develop and institute performance standards and regulatory and enforcement
mechanisms for menstrual hygiene products and waste management solutions and technologies,
and introduce regular monitoring to ensure quality and adherence to standards.
Adequate budgetary allocations through government policies and schemes for all components of
MHM, including menstrual hygiene products and waste management solutions.
Global guidance documents to include greater attention to MHM, include waste management.
For instance, documentation from the World Health Organization (WHO) or UNICEF on core
questions and indicators for monitoring WASH in schools and the SDGs should include further
guidance on MHM and safe waste management as part of the service ladders.
Global and national platforms (e.g., conferences, networks) for advocacy on sanitation and MHM
to include attention to menstrual waste management particularly through research, technology
development, and intervention implementation.
The authors’ overall recommendations are also outlined in Table S6.
8. Conclusions
The disposal of used absorbents cannot be understood and carried out in isolation, requiring
user-centered design thinking to consider socio-cultural norms regarding menstruation, product
availability, quality and use, and existing sanitation systems. In institutional and community settings,
the design of sanitation systems needs to be responsive to and plan for disposal of menstrual waste,
incorporating it into both the sanitation and solid waste management parts of a WASH program,
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018,15, 2562 16 of 19
providing appropriate, discrete and sound solutions that minimize adverse health impacts on girls
and women, sanitation workers, and broader environmental consequences. Thermal treatment is one
option as a waste management and pathogen treatment approach, and with careful implementation
may prove socially acceptable in many contexts, although care needs to be taken with design to ensure
emissions are safe, particularly where absorbents contains chlorine or polyethene.
Supplementary Materials:
The following are available online at http://www.mdpi.com/1660- 4601/15/11/2562/
s1, Table S1: Summary Menstrual Hygiene Products and Absorbents used in LMIC in Africa and Asia, Table S2:
Details of Literature Reviewed on Menstrual Absorbents; Table S3: Menstrual hygiene products/absorbents and
the materials they are made from in LMIC; Table S4: Disposal practices reported in studies; Table S5: Overview of
different incinerator technologies including type of use, advantages, disadvantaged and examples of current use.
The table has been adapted from PATH (2017) [57], Table S6: Authors’ recommendations.
Author Contributions:
Each of the seven authors contributed to the manuscript outline, literature review,
analysis, writing, and review of the article. Individual contributions of each author to research and writing
of the manuscript are outlined here: Conceptualization, M.F.E., A.M., A.P., K.T.R., M.S., A.P.T., and K.P.W.;
Methodology, M.F.E., A.M., K.P.W., A.P.; Software, K.P.W.; Validation, M.F.E., A.M., A.P., K.R., M.S., A.T., and
K.P.W.; Formal Analysis, M.F.E., A.M., A.P., K.T.R., M.S., A.T., and K.P.W.; Investigation, M.F.E., A.M., A.P., K.T.R.,
M.S., A.P.T., and K.P.W.; Resources, M.F.E., A.M., A.P., K.T.R., M.S., A.P.T., and K.P.W.; Data Curation, A.M. and
K.P.W.; Writing-Original Draft Preparation, M.F.E., A.M., A.P., K.T.R., M.S., A.T., and K.P.W.; Writing-Review
& Editing, M.F.E.; Visualization, M.F.E., A.M., A.T., K.P.W.; Supervision, M.F.E.; Project Administration, M.F.E.;
Funding Acquisition, M.F.E.
Funding:
The authors have received grant support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Duke
University Center for WASH-Aid.
Acknowledgments:
The authors acknowledge the financial support for this work through grants with the Bill
and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Duke University Center for Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Infectious Disease
(WASH-Aid).
Conflicts of Interest: The authors have no conflicts of interest.
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Existing evidence shows homeless and low-income women have difficulty accessing menstrual hygiene products and services. This study explores the menstrual hygiene management (MHM) experiences of 15 homeless women with mental illnesses served by a behavioral health agency in St. Louis, Missouri. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted in a private setting at participants’ convenience. Participants were asked about experiences with periods during homelessness, to include symptoms experienced, hygiene methods used, whether support was available, and their assessment of mental-health impacts. Our results support existing findings, highlighting a need for greater access to MHM products and safe access to bathing and laundry services.
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Abstract Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges of vulnerable adolescents who had reproductive health problems even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Methodology: We investigated this vulnerability through cross-sectional studies with a mixed-method approach. on female adolescents aged 15-19 years, residing in the Bauniabadh and the Ta block Jhil Par slums together with service providers. The quantitative method included a household survey of adolescents (n=144) through a semi-structured pre-tested questionnaire. The qualitative method included interviews with service providers (n=10) and with adolescents (n=9). Result: The study revealed changes in length, duration and flow of menstruation, substandard menstrual hygiene practices and impediments to the uptake of reproductive health (RH) information by adolescents during the pandemic. Married pregnant adolescents are inclined in taking their antenatal checkups (ANC) only during the last trimester and preferred delivery at home during the pandemic. There was also an increase in marriage among these adolescents and service providers had difficulty providing door-to-door RH services. Most of our female adolescents were married off during the pandemic, they lost connection with their friends and this made them feel lonely and secluded. They did not receive the support of their friends as before the pandemic. Conclusion: The study will enable the adolescent health expert to focus on the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) of vulnerable adolescents living in impoverished conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Keywords: COVID-19, adolescents, slum, reproductive health, vulnerable, Bangladesh
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Background There is a significant gap in empirical evidence on the menstrual hygiene management (MHM) challenges faced by adolescent girls and women in emergency contexts, and on appropriate humanitarian response approaches to meet their needs in diverse emergency contexts. To begin filling the gap in the evidence, we conducted a study in two diverse contexts (Myanmar and Lebanon), exploring the MHM barriers facing girls and women, and the various relevant sectoral responses being conducted (e.g. water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), Protection, Health, Education and Camp Management). Methods Two qualitative assessments were conducted: one in camps for internally displaced populations in Myanmar, and one with refugees living in informal settlements and host communities in Lebanon. Key informant interviews were conducted with emergency response staff in both sites, and focus group discussion and participatory mapping activities conducted with adolescent girls and women. Results Key findings included that there was insufficient access to safe and private facilities for MHM coupled with displacement induced shifts in menstrual practices by girls and women. Among staff, there was a narrow interpretation of what an MHM response includes, with a focus on supplies; significant interest in understanding what an improved MHM response would include and acknowledgement of limited existing MHM guidance across various sectors; and insufficient consultation with beneficiaries, related to discomfort asking about menstruation, and limited coordination between sectors. Conclusions There is a significant need for improved guidance across all relevant sectors for improving MHM response in emergency context, along with increased evidence on effective approaches for integrating MHM into existing responses.
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Background Bangladesh faces daunting challenges in addressing the sanitation needs of its urban poor. Maintaining the cleanliness and functionality of communal toilets is dependent upon periodic emptying of fecal sludge, and cooperation between users of communal toilets. Trash disposal into latrines can block the outflow pipes, rendering the toilets non-functional. Methods Pre-intervention: We conducted in-depth interviews with five operators of fecal sludge emptying equipment and five adult residents who were also caregivers of children. We identified factors contributing to improper disposal of trash into communal toilets, a barrier to operation of the equipment, in low-income communities of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Intervention design: We developed behavior change communication materials to discourage waste disposal in toilets, and promote use of waste bins. We conducted six focus group discussions with adult male, female, landlord and children to select the preferred design for waste bins to be placed inside toilets, and finalize communication materials. Post-intervention: We then pilot-tested an intervention package to promote appropriate trash disposal practices and thus facilitate periodic removal of fecal sludge when the latrine pits become full. We conducted 20 in-depth interviews and four focus group discussions with community residents, landlords and cleaners of communal toilets. Results Barriers to appropriate waste disposal included lack of private location for disposal of menstrual hygiene products, limited options for formal trash collection and disposal, and the use of plastic bags for disposing children’s feces. A pilot intervention including behavior change communication and trash bins was implemented in two urban slum communities. Spot checks confirmed that the bins were in place and used. Respondents described positive improvements in the appearance of the toilet and surrounding environment. Conclusion The current practice on the part of local residents of disposing of waste into toilets impedes the safe removal of fecal sludge and impairs toilet functionality. Residents reported positive changes in toilet cleanliness and usability resulting from this intervention, and this both improves the user experience with toilets, and also promotes the sustainability of the entrepreneurial model of Vacutug operators supported by WSUP.
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Importance: Adequate management of menstrual hygiene is taken for granted in affluent countries; however, inadequate menstrual hygiene is a major problem for girls and women in resource-poor countries, which adversely affects the health and development of adolescent girls. Objective: The aim of this article is to review the current evidence concerning menstrual hygiene management in these settings. Evidence acquisition: A PubMed search using MeSH terms was conducted in English, supplemented by hand searching for additional references. Retrieved articles were reviewed, synthesized, and summarized. Results: Most research to date has described menstrual hygiene knowledge, attitudes, and practices, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Many school-based studies indicate poorer menstrual hygiene among girls in rural areas and those attending public schools. The few studies that have tried to improve or change menstrual hygiene practices provide moderate to strong evidence that targeted interventions do improve menstrual hygiene knowledge and awareness. Conclusion and relevance: Challenges to improving menstrual hygiene management include lack of support from teachers (who are frequently male); teasing by peers when accidental menstrual soiling of clothes occurs; poor familial support; lack of cultural acceptance of alternative menstrual products; limited economic resources to purchase supplies; inadequate water and sanitation facilities at school; menstrual cramps, pain, and discomfort; and lengthy travel to and from school, which increases the likelihood of leaks/stains. Areas for future research include the relationship between menarche and school dropout, the relationship between menstrual hygiene management and other health outcomes, and how to increase awareness of menstrual hygiene management among household decision makers including husbands/fathers and in-laws.
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Menstruation is a delicate physiological process through which a shedding of uterine lining occurs each month in females of reproductive age. Often considered a taboo subject, menstruation is seldom openly discussed in developing parts of the world. This article explores menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in sub-Saharan Africa and emphasizes the urgent and neglected need for feasible solutions, especially among adolescent girls. Optimizing menstrual hygiene interventions will require an integration of both knowledge and skill training gained through education on MHM alongside an improvement of access to girl-friendly water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in addition to access to low-cost hygienic sanitary products. To facilitate the identification and implementation of feasible and cultural relevant programs we recommend the utilization of public health intervention research.
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Background Menstruation is a natural physiological process that requires proper management. Unlike other normal bodily processes, menstruation is linked with religious and cultural meanings that can affect the perceptions of young girls as well as the ways in which the adults in the communities around them respond to their needs. Objectives This review aims to answer the following questions: (1) how knowledgeable are adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries about menstruation and how prepared are they for reaching menarche, (2) who are their sources of information regarding menstruation, (3) how well do the adults around them respond to their information needs, (4) what negative health and social effects do adolescents experience as a result of menstruation, and (5) how do adolescents respond when they experience these negative effects and what practices do they develop as a result? Methods Using a structured search strategy, articles that investigate young girls’ preparedness for menarche, knowledge of menstruation and practices surrounding menstrual hygiene in LMIC were identified. A total of 81 studies published in peer-reviewed journals between the years 2000 and 2015 that describe the experiences of adolescent girls from 25 different countries were included. ResultsAdolescent girls in LMIC are often uninformed and unprepared for menarche. Information is primarily obtained from mothers and other female family members who are not necessarily well equipped to fill gaps in girls’ knowledge. Exclusion and shame lead to misconceptions and unhygienic practices during menstruation. Rather than seek medical consultation, girls tend to miss school, self-medicate and refrain from social interaction. Also problematic is that relatives and teachers are often not prepared to respond to the needs of girls. ConclusionLMIC must recognize that lack of preparation, knowledge and poor practices surrounding menstruation are key impediments not only to girls’ education, but also to self-confidence and personal development. In addition to investment in private latrines with clean water for girls in both schools and communities, countries must consider how to improve the provision of knowledge and understanding and how to better respond to the needs of adolescent girls.
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Key Recommendations • Ensure that toilet design and implementation efforts use a gender-responsive approach to better address the sociocultural and biological needs of women • Deepen our understanding of the role of gender norms and identities on sanitation technology adoption through further research • Evaluate the longer term benefits of gender-responsive sanitation solutions on health, safety, productivity, and gender equity • Evaluate the longer term benefits of gender equity on adoption of sanitation solutions More than 792 million people in India do not have access to improved sanitation. 1 Although efforts to increase sanitation coverage in rural areas face the principal challenge of changing long-held open defecation behavior, the core challenge in urban areas is addressing inadequate access to and supply of improved sanitation. A growing body of evidence further suggests that women and girls face unique cultural and biological burdens in relation to sanitation. Despite this evidence, systems often continue to compromise the health, safety, and productivity of women, and fail to advance gender equity more broadly. Recent news has also highlighted the potent connection between public sanitation and violence against women in India. 2 Within this context, gender-responsive sanitation interventions in urban areas have the potential to improve adoption and long-term outcomes for women and their communities through targeted design and implementation. In this research brief, we provide an overview of recent literature on women and sanitation in urban India. In particular, we consider possible improvements to the design and location of toilet facilities based on articulated needs and current solutions. We also highlight the need for further research evaluating the potential benefits of female-targeted interventions for women and their communities. The issues we consider are context specific, because women's preferences vary across caste, religion, and region. Furthermore, the improvements we discuss respond primarily to existing gender norms. Broader efforts are needed to transform gender norms and meet the dual goals of higher sanitation adoption and better outcomes for women.
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The potential menstrual hygiene management barriers faced by adolescent girls and women in workplace environments in low- and middle-income countries has been under addressed in research, programming and policy. Despite global efforts to reduce poverty among women in such contexts, there has been insufficient attention to the water and sanitation related barriers, specifically in relation to managing monthly menstruation, that may hinder girls’ and women’s contributions to the workplace, and their health and wellbeing. There is an urgent need to document the specific social and environmental barriers they may be facing in relation to menstrual management, to conduct a costing of the implications of inadequate supportive workplace environments for menstrual hygiene management, and to understand the implications for girls’ and women’s health and wellbeing. This will provide essential evidence for guiding national policy makers, the private sector, donors and activists focused on advancing girls’ and women’s rights.
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Learning about menstrual hygiene is a vital aspect of health education for adolescent girls. This study among 664 schoolgirls aged 14-18 in Mansoura, Egypt, asked about type of sanitary protection used, frequency of changing pads or cloths, means of disposal and bathing during menstruation. Girls were selected by cluster sampling technique in public secondary schools in urban and rural areas. Data were collected through an anonymous, self-administered, open-ended questionnaire during class time. The significant predictors of use of sanitary pads were availability of mass media at home, high and middle social class and urban residence. Use of sanitary pads may be increasing, but not among girls from rural and poor families, and other aspects of personal hygiene were generally found to be poor, such as not changing pads regularly or at night, and not bathing during menstruation. Lack of privacy was an important problem. Mass media were the main source of information about menstrual hygiene, followed by mothers, but a large majority of girls said they needed more information. Instruction in menstrual hygiene should be linked to an expanded programme of health education in schools. A supportive environment for menstrual hygiene has to be provided both at home and in school and sanitary pads made more affordable. Résumé L'hygiène menstruelle est un volet essentiel de l'éducation sanitaire des adolescentes. Cette étude a demandé à 664 étudiantes âgées de 14 à 18 ans de Mansoura, Égypte, le type de protection sanitaire qu'elles utilisaient, à quelle fréquence elles en changeaient, comment elles s'en débarrassaient et si elles se baignaient pendant leurs règles. Les filles, sélectionnées par échantillonnage par grappes dans des écoles secondaires publiques de zones rurales et urbaines, ont répondu en classe à un questionnaire anonyme, autogéré et à réponses ouvertes. Les facteurs prédisposant à l'utilisation de serviettes hygiéniques étaient l'accès aux médias à la maison, l'appartenance à une classe sociale élevé et moyenne et la résidence urbaine. L'utilisation de serviettes hygiéniques s'accroît peut-être, mais non dans les familles rurales et pauvres, et l'enquête a constaté d'autres manques, comme le fait de ne pas changer de serviette régulièrement, et de ne pas se baigner pendant les règles. Le manque d'intimité était aussi un problème important. Les médias représentaient les principales sources d'information sur l'hygiène menstruelle, suivis des mères, mais beaucoup de filles souhaitaient davantage de renseignements. Il faut lier les cours d'hygiène menstruelle à un programme scolaire élargi d'éducation sanitaire. L'environnement doit apporter un soutien en matière d'hygiène menstruelle à la maison et à l'école, et les serviettes hygiéniques doivent devenir plus abordables. Resumen El aprendizaje sobre la higiene menstrual es un aspecto vital de la educación en salud para las adolescentes. En este estudio realizado con 664 colegialas entre 14 y 18 años de edad, en Mansoura, Egipto, se preguntó acerca del tipo de protección sanitaria utilizada, la frecuencia con que se cambian las toallas, los medios de desecharlas y los baños durante la menstruación. Las niñas fueron seleccionadas por la técnica de muestreo por conglomerados, en escuelas secundarias públicas de zonas urbanas y rurales. Los datos se recolectaron por medio de un cuestionario anónimo, autoadministrado durante horas de clase. Los previsores importantes del uso de toallas sanitarias fueron: disponibilidad de los medios de comunicación en el hogar, clase social alta y media, y residencia urbana. El uso de toallas sanitarias posiblemente esté aumentando, pero no entre las niñas de familias rurales y pobres. Además, se encontraron deficiencias en otros aspectos de la higiene personal, como no cambiarse de toalla con regularidad o de noche, y no bañarse a diario durante la menstruación. La falta de privacidad fue un problema importante. Los medios de comunicación fueron la fuente principal de información sobre la higiene menstrual, seguidos de las madres, pero la gran mayoría de las niñas dijeron que necesitan más información. La enseñanza sobre la higiene menstrual debe vincularse a un programa ampliado de educación en salud en las escuelas. Se debe crear un ambiente de apoyo para la higiene menstrual tanto en el hogar como en la escuela, y las toallas sanitarias deben distribuirse a precios más asequibles.
Article
Background: In the lives of women, puberty is marked by the onset of menarche. From this stage onwards until menopause, reproductive health and menstrual hygiene are important aspects of women's lives. In Zambia's Western Province, the natural process of menstruation is a taboo and dealt with secretly. Information and knowledge about menstruation and menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls is inadequate. This paper explores the factors influencing the understanding, experiences and practices of menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls in Mongu District, Western Province of Zambia. Methods: An explorative study design was used by means of six focus group discussions conducted with 51 respondents, aged 13-20 years, from three secondary schools. Their age at menarche was 11-15. For data analysis thematic content analysis was used. Results: The paper shows that the girls suffer from poor menstrual hygiene, originating from lack of knowledge, culture and tradition, and socio-economic and environmental constraints, leading to inconveniences, humiliation and stress. This leads to reduced school attendance and poor academic performance, or even drop outs, and ultimately infringes upon the girls' human rights. Conclusion: To address these shortcomings, a 'super setting approach' is recommended, in which a Health Promoting School could improve the girls' individual and group needs, and a community setting which would address the broader socio-economic, cultural and environmental conditions. This would enable creating a supportive environment for the girls to manage their periods. To successfully utilize the approach, all stakeholders (parents, teachers, children, governments and communities) should cooperate to generate context-specific solutions for creating safe menstrual care, and better and dignified conditions for adolescent girls. Therefore, this calls for comprehensive, strident advocacy for policy changes at national level, and mediation and involvement at community level.