In India, simple machines for women to make sanitary pads

In some rural villages, women use soiled rags, leaves, and other unsanitary alternatives. One man invented a series of small machines that turns wood pulp into sanitary napkins.

During her time of the month, Arunachalam Muruganantham's wife had two choices: use a soiled rag or spend the family's milk budget to buy basic commercial pads. Husks, dried leaves, sawdust, and newspapers are also being used by 88 percent of reproductive-aged women in India

So he designed relatively simple devices so that women living in rural India could make their own sanitary pads, Businessweek reports

After testing some prototypes using a soccer ball bladder filled with goat's blood strapped to his waist, Muruganantham ended up with a series of small machines that use mechanical processes to convert pine wood pulp into a sanitary napkin:

  1. The pulp is defibrated, or separated into its fibrous components, using a grinder. This turns hard cellulose into a fluffy material. 
  2. The defibered pulp is packed into a block and pressed by a core-forming machine. 
  3. The pressed cores are wrapped in non-woven fabric and disinfected in a UV treatment unit. 
  4. Then it's sealed by machine, and a position sticker is pasted on.

According to the Jayaashree Industries website, the machines cost approximately 75,000 rupees (about $1,200) each -- though set-up and training, or the semi-automated version, would add to the cost. Each can produce two pads a minute, which sell for about 2.5 rupees ($0.04) each. They're kept deliberately simple so that they can be maintained by the women themselves, BBC explains. Muruganantham thinks that up to 10 women can gain employment per installation. 

It took Muruganantham four and a half years of research and test, and another 18 months to build 250 machines, which he distributed in underdeveloped states in Northern India. The machines have since spread to 1,300 villages in 23 states in India, BBC reports. And the benefits go beyond public health, Businessweek explains

The lack of adequate menstrual supplies can keep girls out of school and women out of the work force. Some estimates suggest that giving women more opportunities in India could boost the country's economic growth rate by about 4 percentage points.

A documentary about Muruganantham -- the "Menstrual Man" -- can be streamed in full here. He also did a lively Ted Talk.

[Via BBC, Businessweek]

Image: Jayaashree Industries

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