Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sanitary Napkins for the poor



An Indian Inventor Disrupts The Period Industry
When Arunachalam Muruganantham decided he was going to do something about the fact that women in India can’t afford sanitary napkins, he went the extra mile: He wore his own for a week to figure out the best design.

Right now, 88% of women in India resort to using dirty rags, newspapers, dried leaves, and even ashes during their periods, because they just can’t afford sanitary napkins,according to "Sanitation protection: Every Women’s Health Right," a study by AC Nielsen.Typically, girls who attain puberty in rural areas either miss school for a couple of days a month or simply drop out altogether. Muruganantham’s investigation into the matter began when he questioned his wife about why she was trying to furtively slip away with a rag. She responded by saying that buying sanitary napkins meant no milk for the family.



"When I saw these sanitary napkins, I thought 'Why couldn’t I create a low cost napkin for [my wife]?'" says Muruganantham. That thought kick-started a journey that led to him being called a psycho, a pervert, and even had him accused of dabbling in black magic.
He first tried to get his wife and sisters to test his hand-crafted napkins, but they refused. He tried to get female medical students to wear them and fill out feedback sheets, but no woman wanted to talk to a man about such a taboo topic. His wife, thinking his project was all an excuse to meet younger women, left him. After repeated unsuccessful research attempts, including wearing panties with his do-it-yourself uterus, he eventually hit upon the idea of distributing free napkins to the students and collecting the used ones for study. That was the last straw for his mother. When she encountered a storeroom full of bloody sanitary napkins, she left too.
Analyzing branded napkins at laboratories led to Muruganantham’s first breakthrough. "I found out that these napkins were made of cellulose derived from the bark of a tree," he said. A high school dropout, he taught himself English and pretended to be a millionaire to get U.S. manufacturers to send him samples of their raw material.



Demystifying the napkin was only the first step. Once he knew how to make them, he discovered that the machine necessary to convert the pine wood fiber into cellulose cost more than half a million U.S. dollars. It’s one of the reasons why only multinational giants such as Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have dominated the sanitary napkin making industry in India.
It took Muruganantham a little over four years to create a simpler version of the machine, but he eventually found a solution. Powered by electricity and foot pedals, the machine de-fibers the cellulose, compresses it into napkin form, seals it with non-woven fabrics, and finally sterilizes it with ultraviolet light. He can now make 1,000 napkins a day, which retail for about $.25 for a package of eight.



Though he’s won numerous awards (and won his wife back) he doesn’t sell his product commercially. "It’s a service," he says. His company, Jayaashree Industries, helps rural women buy one of the $2,500 machines through NGOs, government loans, and rural self-help groups. "My vision is to make India a 100% napkin-using country," said Muruganantham at the INK conference in Jaipur. "We can create 1 million employment opportunities for rural women and expand the model to other developing nations." Today, there are about 600 machines deployed in 23 states across India and in a few countries abroad.
The machine and business model help create a win-win situation. A rural woman can be taught to make napkins on it in three hours. Running one of the machines employs four women in total, which creates income for rural women. Customers now have access to cheap sanitary napkins and can order customized napkins of varying thicknesses for their individual needs.
It is not an easy path, though. "Lack of awareness is the major reason, next to the apathy of NGO’s," says Sumathi Dharmalingam, a housewife who runs a napkin-making business based around the machine. According to her, rural women are clueless as to how to use them, think twice about spending even the small amount of money to buy a packet, and sadly have a devil-may-care attitude about their health. "When I caution them that they might have to have their uterus removed because of reproductive infections, they just say, 'So what? How long are we going to live anyway?'"
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There are many poor in this country who are still using the good morning towel for their monthly period.  These towels are used repeatedly sometimes as long as four to five years depending on whether the female folks have the money to buy new towels.
So it would be good if some ex-businessmen who have the spare cash and time to negotiate with Arunachalam to bring this technology over and to make cheap sanitary pads for the poor.  
Some people will say RM7 for a packet of sanitary pad also call expensive.  But when you are poor, a choice of putting food on the table for the family or having to pay RM7 for 10 napkins for yourself, then filling the stomach is more important than the chi pet.
Unlike some who can afford to pay cash S$10 million to buy a posh condo in Singapore.  Many poor are surviving on less than RM10 per month on food.
This is the real situation in Malaysia.

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