How safe are sa­ni­ta­ry pads in India?

Une ques­tion de san­té pu­blique.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Sommaire -

En Inde, ache­ter des ser­viettes hy­gié­niques est un su­jet ta­bou. Si les femmes osent à peine s’en ser­vir, com­ment ima­gi­ner qu’elles veillent à leur com­po­si­tion ? C’est, mal­heu­reu­se­ment, une source d’in­quié­tude pour la san­té pu­blique tant les condi­tions de fa­bri­ca­tion et les com­po­sants de ces pro­duits sont mal ré­gle­men­tés.

Awo­man en­ters the store, picks up a pack or mumbles the name of the brand she wants un­der her breath to the sto­re­kee­per, who pro­ceeds to wrap the pro­duct in an old news­pa­per and hands it to her in a black plas­tic bag. She pays in awk­ward si­lence be­fore hur­ried­ly exi­ting the shop.

2. That’s ty­pi­cal­ly how a wo­man buys a pack of sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kins in India, where the to­pic of mens­trual hy­giene is usual­ly not dis­cus­sed in gen­teel com­pa­ny, let alone in pu­blic. So how does one be­gin to ask ques­tions about what goes in­to the ma­king of a pro­duct that people are he­si­tant to even men­tion aloud?


3. Fur­ther, since sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kins are classified as “me­di­cal pro­ducts”, com­pa­nies are not re­qui­red by law to dis­close what goes in­to their ma­king on pro­duct packs. There is no re­search to at­test that sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kins sold in India are safe. But the use of some che­mi­cals in the fe­mi­nine hy­giene pro­ducts raises ques­tions over how safe they real­ly are.

4. “It is a sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kin. Its pur­pose is not just to ab­sorb. Hy­giene pa­ra­me­ters of the pro­duct, of how safe they are, should be dis­clo­sed on the pa­ckets. Un­for­tu­na­te­ly, people choose sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kins ba­sed on the cost, de­si­gn and pa­cka­ging,” said Bha­wa­na Cha­na­na, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the de­part­ment of fa­bric and ap­pa­rel science at La­dy Ir­win Col­lege, Del­hi Uni­ver­si­ty.

5. “But the main consi­de­ra­tion real­ly should be hy­giene— what’s the pH range, for ins­tance. But wo­men don’t ask sim­ply be­cause they are em­bar­ras­sed and this has wor­ked to the ad­van­tage of the ma­nu­fac­tu­rers and sel­lers,” ad­ded Cha­na­na, who said she has come across ins­tances where pro­ducts re­jec­ted in the US or Ger­ma­ny have been re­cy­cled in India.


6. In fact, in 2003, Ah­me­da­bad-ba­sed Con­su­mer Edu­ca­tion and Re­search Centre tes­ted 19 brands of sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kins avai­lable in the mar­ket and found dirt and ants on some of the samples tes­ted. When pro­ducts in the mar­ket are cer­ti­fied by of­fi­cial agen­cies, consu­mers as­sume they are safe. In India, sa­ni­ta­ry pads are tes­ted as per stan­dards that ha­ven’t been up­da­ted since 1980.

7. “On the ba­sis of that stan­dard, all sa­ni­ta­ry pads will pass the tests. This needs to change; more pa­ra­me­ters need to be ad­ded. We need to have pa­ra­me­ters to check how safe these pro­ducts are,” said Ji­noj K., chief exe­cu­tive of­fi­cer of Wa­ger Hy­giene, a ma­ker of health and per­so­nal care pro­ducts in­clu­ding sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kins. Ji­noj is al­so the foun­der of Chen­nai-ba­sed Centre for Hy­giene Re­search and De­ve­lop­ment.

8. The Bu­reau of In­dian Stan­dards 1980 spe­ci­fies tests that are ve­ry ba­sic. For ins­tance, to de­ter­mine whe­ther the ab­sorbent fillers in the sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kins are lum­py and whe­ther the sur­face of the pads feels soft and com­for­table en­ough. Ho­we­ver, there is no re­qui­re­ment to test the toxi­ci­ty of in­gre­dients.


9. The pro­cess in­vol­ved in the ma­king of sa­ni­ta­ry pads in India hasn’t chan­ged in de­cades. The on­ly changes are cos­me­tic, said na­no­tech­no­lo­gist Chan­dra She­khar Shar­ma from the In­dian Ins­ti­tute of Tech­no­lo­gy Hy­de­ra­bad’s de­part­ment of che­mi­cal en­gi­nee­ring. “No one de­nies the health ha­zards of using these com­mer­cial­ly sold nap­kins. But scien­ti­fi­cal­ly there is much more to stu­dy be­fore we reach a conclu­sion. Concerns about cer­tain ad­verse ef­fects are va­lid but not yet quan­ti­fied,” he ad­ded.

10. In India, price plays an im­por­tant role. And, pri­cing is de­ci­ded ba­sed on what ad­di­tio­nal fea­tures the sa­ni­ta­ry pads of­fer. “The MRP (maximum re­tail price) de­pends on the in­cre­men­tal pro­duct be­ne­fits of­fe­red by a par­ti­cu­lar pro­duct, which could be lon­ger length, wi­der back, su­per­ior ab­sorp­tion and wet­ness pro­tec­tion, or gent­le­ness on skin,” said a P&G India spo­kes­per­son. So the add-ons are most­ly cos­me­tic, and not real­ly hy­giene re­la­ted.


11. Even though all the lea­ding brands in the In­dian sa­ni­ta­ry mar­ket are glo­bal ones and sell the same pro­ducts world­wide, the qua­li­ty of the che­mi­cals used in India is be­lie­ved to be in­fe­rior. Ac­cor­ding to a se­nior exe­cu­tive at one of the sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kin ma­kers, who has wor­ked in both de­ve­lo­ping and de­ve­lo­ped coun­tries for close to two de­cades, use of in­fe­rior qua­li­ty com­po­nents to re­duce cost is not new and com­pa­nies can­not be bla­med as they do not need to com­ply with any spe­ci­fied sa­fe­ty or hy­giene stan­dards in India. Since on­ly 12% of mens­trua­ting In­dian wo­men use sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kins, ques­tions ha­ven’t been rai­sed over how these pads are made, and conse­quent­ly there isn’t much pres­sure on com­pa­nies to come up with bet­ter qua­li­ty pro­ducts.

12. “Ni­ne­ty per cent of those who don’t even have ac­cess to sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kins are fa­cing ma­ny more ad­verse ef­fects than these 10-12% who are using the wrong ones,” said Pad­ma Sh­ri awar­dee Aru­na­cha­lam Mu­ru­gu­nan­tham, whose start-up Jayaash­ree In­dus­tries has ma­nu­fac­tu­red more than 1,300 sa­ni­ta­ry pads ma­chines that are ins­tal­led across 27 states in India and se­ven other coun­tries. “We are figh­ting to make sa­ni­ta­ry pads ac­ces­sible to eve­ry wo­man,” he ad­ded. Even the 12% of In­dian wo­men who have ac­cess to these pro­ducts—each one would be using on ave­rage 11,000-17,000 sa­ni­ta­ry nap­kins in her li­fe­time—de­serve to know what goes on­to and in­to their bo­dies.

In India, price plays an im­por­tant role.


A mat­ter of pu­blic health.

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