Menstruating is a natural but not always healthy process for girls, women and transgender men. The lack of resources to obtain hygiene items during this period – the menstrual poverty – affects the health of dozens of people from Ceará annually, often irreversibly.
In Ceará, from January to July this year, 62 girls aged 10 to 19 were hospitalized due to pelvic inflammatory diseases, PID. per year are 170 admissions of type, on average. One of the reasons, as gynecologists warn, is the use of alternatives to absorbents – such as toilet paper, cloths and even newspaper.
The medical gynecologist Nathalia Podemos explains that menstrual pads are designed to create protective barriers and prevent blood bacteria from returning to the genital tract, which is not provided by the “home-made” options.
Blood accumulates, bacteria proliferate and generate infections, which can lead to severe fever, pelvic pain, abscesses and even infertility or loss of the uterus.
Nathalia I can
In 2018, Ceará totaled 187 hospitalizations for pelvic inflammatory diseases in the age group of 10 to 19 years. The following year, there were 183, against 141 in 2020. The data are from the SUS Hospital Information System (SIH/SUS), collected by the Diário do Nordeste.
Among the diseases that caused the 573 hospitalizations between 2018 and 2021, there are pelvic parametritis and cellulitis, acute and chronic female pelviperitonitis, pelviperitoneal adhesions and other pelvic infections.
Pain in the lower abdomen (in the “belly foot”), abdominal and back pain, fever, fatigue and vomiting, vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding, and pain when urinating are among the main signs and symptoms of PID.
Impacts of menstrual poverty
The high number of hospitalizations for PID in Ceará “is certainly related to poor hygiene and inadequate handling of the menstrual product”, as assessed by gynecologist Mayna Moura.
The doctor points out that when there is adequate hygiene in the intimate region with soap and water and the use of absorbent pads, health remains regular – a reality that is inaccessible for many women, especially those with low incomes.
Poor girls, who live in houses without sanitation and do not have easy access to water and hygiene products, have a high level of school dropout during menstruation, because they do not have a tampon or the school does not have a proper toilet.
The social impacts, then, reverberate in several dimensions. “They see the act of menstruating negatively, because it generates this negative impact on life, on physical and emotional health. Families also suffer, because the girl who leaves school for shame to be menstruating will depend economically on other people”, analyzes Mayna.
Ana (fictitious name to preserve identity), 15, a student at a state school in Fortaleza, defines the four days of the menstrual cycle as “the worst week of the month”, a period that was once a reason to miss classes “several times”, as she herself confesses.
“Mine (menstruation) comes a lot, so I need to change the pad very quickly. And it’s not cheap, right? There was a day when I didn’t have it, I had to use paper and it leaked in the school chair. It was horrible. Today, I prefer to stay in home,” he reports.
Talking about the blood that flows naturally, every month, from bodies that have a uterus – or seeing it in a stained clothes or chair – is still taboo for a society that sees menstruation as something shameful, as the gynecologist Mayna Moura points out.
“It’s a very big taboo even among us women. We are ashamed of having our period, going out, working, doing our activities. What we need to understand is that it’s a physiological phenomenon”, he reiterates.
For the doctor, this difficulty even harms the urgent discussion of distributing sanitary napkins – and the scenario has been aggravated by the deficiency in sanitation and public health policies.
It is extremely important that girls and women have access to this basic item, to feel included in society. In addition, much more than providing an absorbent pad, it would be important to provide the most basic: sanitation, water and hygiene products.