After a challenging but Incredible month in Niger; I come home with an aching but blessed heart. It is not until you step outside of your comfort zone that you realize the great need of mankind. In the photo below, I had the privilege to introduce a new concept into the healthcare sector of Niger; with plans in 2017 to expand into the department of education. For two and a half years, I have been researching the status and issues surrounding menstrual hygiene management in Africa. Let me tell you, that it is no romance film; but a horror film a lot of people stop watching after the first scene. After my presentation to over 60 leading gynecological specialists and professors – the man next to me (Professor Nayama Madi) shared with us the truth about menstrual hygiene management in Niger:
“An issue that we see every day is that girls in our communities and cities have no prior education or knowledge about menstruation or how to correctly manage it once it starts. Girls, especially in poor areas where malnutrition and no water are prevalent issues, cannot afford food and water – which are necessary for them to live. How then – are they supposed to hygienically manage their periods if they cannot afford basics such as food and water?
As a result, one of the main challenges we see is that these girls use whatever is at their disposal to try and stop their bleeding. Ashamed, scared and embarrassed of what is happening to them – thinking that it may either be an attack of witchcraft, a bleeding disorder, blood cancer, a curse or that they are dying – are left alone not knowing what it is that is happening to them or how to manage it. As a result, these girls use unsanitary materials (old cleaning rags, animal skins, dirt, other forms of waste) which causes them to contract serious diseases – and eventually turn septic. This is a common occurrence that is seen in our hospital – merely because there is no awareness, education or sustainable solution that could act as a preventative measure in combating disease, waste and school drop out rates/absenteeism. This is a serious issue; and the silence needs to be broken. We need a sustainable solution – and this could be it!”
It’s time to break the silence. Only 6% of girls in Niger have some prior knowledge about menstruation when they start their periods. That means 94% of girls have no knowledge at all about what is happening to them when they start menstruating. This leaves them vulnerable, scared and ashamed. Let’s empower our girls and start creating awareness around menstrual hygiene management.