COVID-19 and Menstrual Health and Hygiene

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Health Care Heroines Need Menstrual Health Too

By Virginia Kamowa, Technical Expert, Menstrual Health and Hygiene, WSSCC

GENEVA - Around the world, there has been an outcry about the severe shortage of supplies and equipment that medical personnel need in order to protect themselves and take care of patients with COVID-19. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including masks are at the top of the list, of course, but there is another kind of personal equipment that roughly 70 percent of health care workers worldwide need while working on the front lines: menstrual products.

We have heard of frontline health care workers having several challenges accessing menstrual products or being able to change them while caring for their patients. Many of these challenges are for safety reasons, such as the protocols in taking on and off a protective suit making it difficult for people to take quick breaks where they could change their menstrual materials. However, other challenges have been because of stigma and discrimination.

In the Chinese province of Hubei, where 50 percent of doctors and 90 percent of nurses are women, donations of menstrual products were turned away by the (mostly male) managers because they were not deemed to be “necessities.” Women were reportedly taking contraceptive pills in order to suppress their cycles. Others had no choice but to bleed onto their protective suits, without any menstrual materials to absorb or collect the flow. A social media outcry led the Chinese authorities to reverse this, and menstrual materials later formed part of the critical medical supplies being sent by the government to hospitals for both patients and care providers.

If health care workers – 80 percent of whom are women in the United States for example – are to be meaningfully supported during the crisis, it is essential that they have enough supplies of sanitary materials along with facilities that allow them to manage their menstruation with safety and dignity.

Pandemics don’t stop periods, and planning for and responding to global crises such as Coronavirus needs to take into account basic menstrual hygiene needs including those of the menstruators who are on the front lines of the pandemic.