Affordable menstrual pads keep girls in school, create jobs

Uganda's Makerere University technologists invent papyrus-based sanitary protection

A project that is making affordable sanitary pads from locally available materials is keeping young girls from poor families in school all month long as well as generating local employment for many women, men and girls in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. The Makapads, which sell much more cheaply than imported sanitary pads used by better-off women and girls during menstruation, were developed by Dr. Moses Kizza Musaazi of Makerere University’s Faculty of Technology in 2003-4, with funding support from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Research done in 2002 showed that many girls did not attend school when they were menstruating because they could not afford to buy commercially-made sanitary pads and 90% of the urban poor were improvising with unhealthy materials such as banana fibers, grass, leaves, old newspapers, and pieces of cloth that did not provide reliable protection. Dr. Musaazi, a specialist in appropriate technology and a senior lecturer in Makerere University's department of electrical engineering, set out to make simple, safe, affordable sanitary pads that would keep girls in school. Earlier he had designed an incinerator that burns sanitary pads and other solid waste.

The sanitary pads (trademarked Makapads) are the first to be made from 99% local materials with the main raw material being papyrus reeds, cut from the vast, abundant swamps and riverbanks all over Uganda. After the papyrus is cut, the green cover is peeled off and the white stem is crushed using a rubber hammer. The material is then dried under the sun and sent for paper processing. Dried papyrus is mixed with water and waste paper or paper cut-offs from printing presses. The mixture of pounded paper and crushed papyrus is put in a rectangular box with a sheave for drying. After the mixture has dried, it is then taken for softening and smoothening in a softening machine. All tools used in the process are locally made or fabricated.

The softened material is then trimmed into pads of 5 cm by 20 cm using a paper cutter and sealed into non-woven packing materials, bought from shops around town. The pads are sealed in packs of three and exposed to ultraviolet light to kill off any bacteria. The pads, three to eight times more absorbent than any on the market, have been approved by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards.

Apart from producing safe and cheap sanitary pads, other project achievements include development of simple cottage machines which are locally manufactured and that use more than 95% local materials. It has so far provided employment and skills development opportunities to women, girls and men, working at different Makapads sub-processes.

Other partners in the project include Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) which oversees distribution, monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of the pads, and Nakaseke Core Primary Teachers' College. The project would like to see the Ugandan government make it mandatory for all schools to provide Makapads to schoolgirls at a cost of 650 Shillings for a packet of 10.

In 2006, the Makapads project was the Ugandan national winner of the Mashariki Innovations in Local Government Awards Programme, a biennial awards programme for the East African region that aims to alleviate poverty and promote excellence in public service delivery, good governance, and enhanced local democracy and decentralization. MILGAP, run by UN HABITAT, was established in 2002 to advance the mobilization and harnessing of local people’s creativity as a vital component of entrenching the norms of good local governance and alleviating poverty within Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The project also was a finalist in the 2007 World Challenge contest.

Contact: Dr. Moses Musaazi, Makerere University, Faculty of Technology

P. O. Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda 

This story was prepared from several sources, including the MILGAP award citation, Provision of Affordable Sanitary Pads to the Disadvantaged Primary School Girls (Makapads) – Kampala, UGANDA; Makapads: Makerere University Makes Affordable Sanitary Pads. Affordable sanitary pads from papyrus to keep girls in school, by John Isingoma, Dec. 16, 2006; Ugandan researcher invents papyrus pad, by Aisher Ahmad in the Weekly Observer 11 May 2006; and the World Prize report entitled Half-price hygiene.

For more information on the scope of menstrual hygiene issues throughout the developing world, see Menstrual Hygiene: A Neglected Condition for the Achievement of Several Millennium Development Goals, Dr. Varina Tjon A Ten, Europe External Policy Advisors (EEPA), 10 Oct 2007; and Menstrual Hygiene and Management in Developing Countries: Taking Stock, Sowmyaa Bharadwaj and Archana Patker, Junction Social Development Consultants, Mumbai, November 2004.


UPDATE: Making progress on sanitary protection for girls in Africa

Since this story was written, there have been a number of projects set up to address the need for sanitary protection for girls in Africa. Elizabeth Scharpf, who won Harvard Business School’s inaugural Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship, is running Sustainble Health Enteprises which is working in Rwanda to develop sanitary pads from local materials in cooperation with local women.

The sanitary pad program run by Watoto Wa Baraka, Nairobi, is providing free sanitary pads to underprivileged girls in a Kenyan community. The Familia Human Care Trust, Kenya, is reported to be producing famipads made from banana fibres and recycled papers, with support from the Good Neighbours Committee;

In Kabondo vllage in Nyanza province of Western Kenya, which has Kenya's highest incidence of HIV/AIDS, girls were happy with reusable kits donated by American women in July 2008. That has inspired the idea of developing a project to teach women and widows to make reusable pads as an income generating activity.

Always and Tampax, which make sanitary protection for women, created the Protecting Futures program in 2007. It  works with partner organizations to provide puberty education, sanitary protection, and sanitary facilities to help vulnerable girls stay in school. By the end of 2009, Protecting Futures will have reached approximately 115,000 girls in 17 countries, and is committed to reaching 1 million girls by 2012.

For a story about a low-priced alternative to conventional sanitary pads being pioneered in India, see HEALTH-INDIA: On the Rag Amidst Riches , by Ranjit Devraj of InterPress Service.

Please note that as of 2011, some of the links to these projects no longer seem to be working. However, Sustainable Health Enterprises is still going strong, and now Zanaa is planning to distribute Makapads in Kenya.


Also see: 

Talking about the 'unmentionable' - menstruation as a development opportunity  

Making sanitary pads locally keeps northern Ugandan girls in school

Sanitary pad project changes lives of DRC refugees in Uganda

Sanitary napkin vending machine brings high marks for girls, revenue for womens groups in India

Sanitary pads project provides income, keeps girls in school in Somalia


For more stories relating to girls education, see:

Gift of a goat from US schoolchildren leads to Ugandan village’s first college graduate

Girl Child Network empowers the voiceless in Zimbabwe

One man's promise brings hope to remote Central Asian villages

First female governor brings attention to women, children in Madagascar

Bangladesh program to enhance girls' access to education inspires other countries


For more stories about womens health, see:

A thousand people walk to save womens' lives in western Georgia

Inexpensive tracking of maternal deaths can help protect maternal health – Indian study

Hundreds run in Tanzania to increase breast cancer awareness, action

Community grants raise breast cancer awareness in Mexico

Motorbike ambulances save lives of mothers, babies, in remote areas of Africa

Fistula operation ends shame, allows women to rejoin society

Five Congo nurses create organization to aid Congo women raped by rebel fighters

Bringing health care to the patients saves womens’ lives in Mali

Cervical cancer control 'achievable for the first time'

Vinegar provides simple cervical cancer screening test where Pap smears not available

Trained birth attendants save mothers' lives in Ethiopia

Respect for Bolivia’s indigenous mothers may help reduce high maternal mortality rates