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Affordable Sanitary Pads for World's Poorest Women

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A company called Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), together with researchers from North Carolina State University, have joined forces to create economical and reliable sanitary pads for millions of women across the globe, who cannot afford the regular feminine products currently available.

Because of their periods, some young women who live in poverty stricken places, are forced to miss up to 50 days of school in a year. This is due to the unavailability of feminine products. Elizabeth Scharpf is founder and CEO of SHE, an organization that is led by women whose goal is to manufacture and distribute affordable, environmentally friendly sanitary pads of good quality, to women in the developing world. What a fantastic idea and mission! Scharph says: “In some …areas of Africa, a month’s supply of imported sanitary pads cost more than a day’s worth of wages. Our goal is to create affordable pads that are…easily manufactured for a low cost at the local level-and the research being conducted at NC State helps us do that.”

The making of these sanitary napkins involves knowledge of areas such as paper and wood science, medical textiles, biomedical engineering and textile engineering chemistry. The raw materials used in the process are banana stems. The stems undergo a series of chemical treatments that convert the fibers into soft, billowy materials that can absorb liquid.

These sanitary pads can be reproduced at the local level. Dr. Lucian Lucia from the Department of Wood and Paper at the university says that their role in the project was to show that it is possible to turn banana stem fiber into an absorbent material, and that the average person, and one who is not necessarily a scientist, would be able to create the sanitary pads. Local production and distribution means that the sanitary pads can be sold by community health workers for 30 percent less than the available brand.

Dr. Marian McCord, associate professor of textile engineering chemistry, science and biomedical engineering, maintains that the project is just one example of how a university can have an important impact on global health. Very true.

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