Quick-drying reusable sanitary towels could improve lives in developing countries

A project is under way at the University of Borås and the Swedish School of Textiles to develop a new sanitary product that can be rapidly cleaned and reused.

In some cultures, menstruation is still considered unclean, and in many developing countries the health of women who do not have access to an adequate supply of sanitary products can suffer.

During her PhD in caring science, Dr Karin Högberg spent time in Nairobi, Kenya, where she witnessed the troubles caused by menstruation for women living in the city's cramped slums.

“A lot of women use rags, leaves, ash or even cow dung to absorb the blood. What is more, in many cultures menstruation is considered something dirty and is thus taboo, meaning that women cannot use other types of washable feminine hygiene products because they cannot hang them up to dry,” she said.

Seeing a need for an affordable, reusable sanitary product which could be cleaned and dried quickly, she began work on a solution, which she has named the SpacerPAD.

“The name SpacerPAD tells you something about the design, we’re talking space-age here,” said Dr Högberg, now a researcher at the University of Borås. “However, we can’t say too much about the actual structure of the textile because of a patent application.”

The SpacerPAD is currently undergoing laboratory testing at the Swedish School of Textiles, where aspects such as leakage, absorption, washing, drying and bacterial growth will be studied. If these tests show promising results, a prototype will be produced to be tested on women, with participants invited to share their opinions on its comfort and function.

“It is a human right to have access to adequate menstrual hygiene. If you don’t, it leads to a complex situation potentially resulting in ill health. In physical terms, there is the obvious risk of infection, but there are also social consequences because of the humiliation and stigma associated with the subject,” said Dr Högberg.

“Many women find their freedom of movement restricted and are stuck at home during their periods if they are unable to conceal them.”

There have been increased efforts in recent years to develop affordable and environmentally alternatives to disposable sanitary products, such as silicone menstrual cups, which can be reused for up to 10 years, and have proved valuable to women around the world.

While the SpacerPAD is designed to help women in developing countries through their menstruation, the team says that there is a gap in the Swedish market for recyclable sanitary products which the SpacerPAD could fill.

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