Unhealthy Menstrual Hygiene, Cause Of Infertility 

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There is a reason why sanitary pads come in multiple covers. Using unclean pads can lead to fungal, reproductive tract and urinary infections. It can even make a woman vulnerable to infertility, Blessing Otobong-Gabriel writes. 

Good menstrual hygiene plays a fundamental role in enabling women and girls to reach their full potentials.  

Menstrual health and hygiene is essential to the well-being and empowerment of women and adolescent girls. On any given day, more than 300 million women worldwide are menstruating.  

In total, an estimated 500 million women and girls lack access to menstrual products and adequate facilities for menstrual management. To effectively manage their menstruation, girls and women require access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, facilities, affordable and appropriate menstrual materials, information on good practices and a supportive environment where they can manage menstruation without embarrassment or stigma.

The negative impact of lack of good menstrual health and hygiene cut across sectors. The World Bank had taken a multi-sectoral and holistic approach to improve menstrual hygiene in its operations across the world.

Secondary infertility refers to couples who are unable to conceive after a year of unprotected intercourse after a previous pregnancy. 

Globally, approximately, 10-15 percent of couples are infertile.

A number of factors have been identified as causing infertility. The most common causes are Reproductive Tract Infections, RTIs. Upper RTIs in women result in serious consequences such as pelvic inflammatory disease and adhesions, resulting in infertility.

Unhygienic practices during menstruation have been reported including the use of unhygienic materials for the absorption of blood and altered bathing practices. In a study, 26 percent of women reported bathing less frequently and used unhygienic materials to absorb the menstrual flow.

A study reported that only 5.2 percent of females use sanitary pads and 77 percent use old pieces of clothes, while others use a combination of the two. 

Another study also showed that 80 percent of females re-use the same cloth for the absorption of blood and 42 percent of them dried the cloth under sun before re-use. The study further reported that, at times, the material was washed in hidden places and not sun-dried.

Clothes dried in hidden places often remain damp, which may give rise to microbial growth and insect larvae, such practices might result in foul-smelling vaginal discharge.

Similarly, unhygienic practices during postpartum might result in RTIs. Various studies reported insertion of herbal medicine inside the vagina or uterus during and washing of the perineum with unsafe material, thereby aiding the transmission of micro-organisms into the upper reproductive tract, leading to pelvic inflammatory diseases, culminating in adhesions and infertility.

According to WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme 2012, menstrual hygiene is when women and adolescent girls use clean items to absorb or collect menstrual blood, which can be changed in privacy as often as necessary, using soap and water to wash the body as required, and having access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose the used items. They understand the basic facts linked to menstrual cycle and how to manage it with dignity and without discomfort or fear.

The challenges that menstruating girls and women face are more than basic lack of supplies or infrastructure. While menstruation is a normal and healthy part of life for most women and girls, in many societies, the experience is constrained by cultural taboos and discriminatory social norms. 

The resulting lack of information about menstruation leads to unhygienic and unhealthy menstrual practices and creates misconceptions and negative attitudes, which often leads to shaming, bullying and even gender-based violence. For generations of girls and women, poor menstrual health and hygiene is exacerbating social and economic inequalities, negatively impacting their education, health, safety and human development. 

Women suffer due to their ignorance on hygiene during menstruation.

Hygiene‑related practices during menstruation are of considerable importance, as it has a health impact in terms of increased vulnerability to reproductive tract infections.

Menstrual hygiene is an issue that is insufficiently acknowledged and has not received adequate attention over the years.

Lack of menstrual hygiene among adolescents is alarming and there is the need for policies and awareness programmes to be initiated.

It has become a taboo that many women in Nigeria feel uncomfortable discussing it in public. 

Naturally, topics that are excluded from public talks are likely to be discarded. This is compounded by gender inequality which excludes women and girls from decision-making processes.

Also in the interplay of socio-economic status, menstrual hygiene practices and RTIs are noticeable. Today, millions of women suffer from RTIs and its complications, and often the infection is transmitted to the offspring of a pregnant mother.

RTIs have become a silent epidemic that devastate women’s lives and are closely interrelated to poor menstrual hygiene. 

Similarly, the use of rags and old clothes is a rule rather than exception in rural areas in Nigeria. Unclean rags and old clothes increase the chances of RTIs including urinary, vaginal and perineal infection. Very often, serious infections are left untreated and may sometimes lead to potentially fatal toxic shock syndrome. 

Untreated RTIs are responsible for 10-15 percent of fetal wastage and 30-50 percent of prenatal infection. Increasingly, they are also linked with the incidence of cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS, infertility, ectopic pregnancy and a myriad of other symptoms.

Women who have better knowledge regarding menstrual hygiene and safe practices are less vulnerable to RTI and its consequences.

Therefore, increased knowledge about menstruation right from childhood may escalate safe practices and help in mitigating the suffering of millions of women.

The first step is raising awareness, hygiene education and promotion, provision of affordable and accessible products and facilities, and waste management.

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, menstruation is the process in which the uterus sheds blood and tissue through the vagina. Menarche is the onset of menstruation and is often considered the central event of puberty, which usually starts at between 11 and 14 years. 

Although the term relates to a biological occurrence in the body of adolescent girls, its significance as a sign of reproductive potential signifies a transition from girlhood to womanhood. 

Consequently, the change frequently necessitates social and psychological adjustment.

Adolescence is the age from 10 to 19 years of one’s life. Adolescent girls often do not receive special puberty education about menstrual health and hygiene because of cultural practices that lead to incorrect and unhealthy behavior, such girls are considered naive in their orientation toward menstrual knowledge and thus are prone to misleading guidance.

Even though menstruation is a normal biological process, sometimes adolescents are unable to manage their menstruation when they are in school. It causes girls to miss classes on average three days every month. 

Studies in some countries showed that the magnitude of menstrual management problems is higher in adolescent girls living in rural areas. 

CEO of Period Reality, Marlou Cornelissen, while giving an overview of the male and female cycle during a sensitisation event on menstrual hygiene management for secondary school girls and female corps members in Bauchi State, lamented that people assume that only women in rural areas are ignorant of menstrual hygiene.

Cornelissen said “We discovered that even urban dwellers have the same problem. Therefore, there is the need to open discussions on the issue of menstrual hygiene.”

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