Adolescent girls in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar lag behind in the use of sanitary products thus posing a threat to their health, latest official data suggests

Young girls in rural Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are yet to switch over to the use of sanitary napkins during menstruation whereas in Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Odisha, the use of sanitary napkins for better hygiene is really catching up, latest official data suggests.

The government initiated a scheme for Promotion of Menstrual Hygiene in 2011 under which highly subsidised sanitary napkins are being supplied to adolescent girls, in the age group of 10-19 years, in the rural areas. The supply is made through the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) who are incentivised for this.

The scheme took off last year in 115 districts of 17 States in the first phase and data received by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suggests that the use of sanitary napkins was the lowest in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the first year with only 39 per cent and 43 per cent utilisation respectively while Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha and Punjab showed 100 per cent utilisation of the first batch of napkins which were supplied by Hindustan latex Limited — a public sector undertaking.

In Rajasthan, 97 per cent young women bought and used these low cost sanitary napkins, closely followed by Maharashtra at 96 per cent, Jharkhand at 87 per cent and Jammu and Kashmir at 85 per cent. While in Madhya Pradesh utilisation was 80 per cent, Andhra Pradesh saw only 71 per cent, Uttarakhand 68 per cent, Karnataka 62 per cent, Assam just 53 per cent, and Gujarat 52 per cent.

The government supplies one pack of sanitary napkins, containing six pads, at Rs. 6 to rural women through ASHAs who gets Re. 1 for per pack she sells and one pack free every month as an incentive. Evidence suggests that lack of access to menstrual hygiene (which includes sanitary napkins, toilets in schools, availability of water, privacy and safe disposal) could contribute to local infections, including Reproductive Tract Infections (RTI).

Studies have shown that RTIs pose grave threats to women's lives, livelihood, and education. Services for the prevention and treatment of RTI/Sexually Transmitted Infections are integral part of the Reproductive Child Health II Programme (RCH II). This scheme is part of the Adolescent Reproductive Sexual Health (ARSH) in the RCH II.

In India, menstruation and menstrual practices are clouded by taboos and socio-cultural restrictions for women as well as adolescent girls. Limited access to safe sanitary products and facilities is believed to be one of the reasons for constrained school attendance, high dropout rates and ill-health due to infection. Lack of awareness is a major reason for unhygienic menstrual practices in the country.

While the full utilisation data for the second batch of supplies is not available with the government with supplies sent in two bulk batches, so far 7,18,70,004 packs have been supplied by the government under the scheme while 2,30,23,711 have been consumed.