Dr Belen Torondel, a lecturer within the EHG, has recently published an article exploring the health outcomes associated with different menstrual hygiene management practices. The paper was published in PlosOne and is available online here. We asked Dr Torondel a few questions about the significance of the study and its key findings.
Why is this study important?
Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) practices vary worldwide and depend on the individual’s socioeconomic status, personal preferences, local traditions and beliefs, and access to water and sanitation. MHM practices can be particularly unhygienic and inconvenient for girls and women in poorer settings. Although 25% of the world’s population may be experiencing their period at any given point in time, relatively little is understood about the health effects of these common MHM practices. This study aimed to determine the association of MHM practices with urogenital infections, controlling for environmental drivers.
A hospital-based case-control study was conducted on 486 women at Odisha, India. Cases and controls were recruited using a syndromic approach. Vaginal swabs were collected from all the participants and tested for bacterial vaginosis (BV) using Amsel’s criteria. Urine samples were cultured to diagnose urinary tract infections (UTI). Socioeconomic status, clinical symptoms and reproductive history, and MHM and water and sanitation practices were obtained by standardised questionnaire
What are the key findings of this study?
The findings highlight which factors may contribute urogenital infections include:
- The type of pad used: Women who used reusable absorbent pads were more likely to experience symptoms or be diagnosed with at least one urogenital infection, compared to women using disposable pads.
- Having a private and comfortable space where they can change without stress. A woman changing her menstrual absorbent outdoors is more prone to infections than if she can change in a clean and private place.
- Having access to sanitation facilities close to the home: A woman with convenient access to a toilet, which has water and other hygienic materials available, was at a lower risk of infection.
What was the most interesting part of conducting this research?
As with other studies where sensitive topics are tackled, we recognized the potential for participants’ reluctance and sought to provide a comfortable environment to facilitate data collection. Further, we worked only with female nurses, interviewers and doctors in an effort to make data collection easier and improve participants’ comfort. However, the clinics provided inadequate privacy for women. Therefore, we had to revise our approach and sought private rooms and provided curtains.
This study offers insights for advancing a holistic understanding of MHM by underscoring the importance of going beyond simply identifying the type of absorbent material used to study the health implications of menstrual hygiene practices and suggest that key lessons may be applied to populations not included in the study, including girls under the age of 18.