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Urgent need to integrate menstrual hygiene into disaster management

 Founder of LM Foundation and CEO of African Elite Group, Lucia Musau hands over sanitary pads to Moi Avenue Primary School Deputy Headteacher, Madam Rosalind Thuo and students from the school. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Kenya is grappling with the devastating effects of floods, which have already caused widespread displacement and destruction. Amid this chaos, a critical yet often overlooked crisis has emerged: the challenge of managing menstrual health in disaster-stricken areas. The situation has exposed a major vulnerability in our emergency response systems.

The floods have severely compromised access to clean water and sanitation, which are crucial for proper menstrual hygiene. Consequently, women and girls often have no choice but to use unhygienic materials, which increases their risk of infections and other health complications. These conditions are uncomfortable and can lead to severe reproductive tract infections.

With 41 counties affected, over 412,366 people are struggling with the aftermath of the floods. Among them, about 278,105 have been displaced from their homes. This has also impacted 64 health facilities, further straining the ability to provide essential services.    

The recurrent nature of flooding underscores the urgent need for a resilient, long-term strategy that embeds menstrual health management within our disaster preparedness plans. While temporary relief measures are essential, they do not adequately address the ongoing and recurrent needs of women and girls in disaster-affected areas.

What can we do to change the narrative?

We can build resilience. In menstrual health management, this involves ensuring sustained access to hygiene products and clean facilities, even in the face of adversity. This requires a proactive approach in stocking and distributing supplies and designing accessible infrastructures.

Education and awareness also empower women and girls to manage their health effectively during emergencies. Moreover, broader community education, including men and boys, is crucial. It reduces the stigma associated with menstruation and encourages the creation of a supportive environment that respects and upholds the dignity of all, regardless of gender.

Integrating gender-responsive strategies into emergency response frameworks can greatly improve the effectiveness of our actions. This means understanding and addressing the specific needs of women and girls, ensuring that menstrual health management is a core component of the health services provided during disasters. Our policies must be re-evaluated and redesigned to include comprehensive provisions for menstrual health, such as the distribution of hygiene kits, access to private sanitation facilities and the availability of healthcare services that are sensitive to gender-specific needs.

We must establish resilient supply chains that can withstand the shocks of natural disasters to ensure that menstrual products are as readily available as food and water in emergencies. Training for first responders should include modules on gender sensitivity and menstrual hygiene management.

Collaboration across various sectors is important. Government bodies, NGOs, community leaders and international partners must work together to ensure that menstrual health hygiene is integrated into all aspects of disaster management and response.

Involving local leaders and women's groups ensures that health strategies are culturally appropriate and effectively implemented. Community-based approaches provide sustainable solutions that ensure meaningful differences in the lives of many.

The health, dignity and well-being of countless women and girls depend on our ability to provide comprehensive, empathetic and informed responses. Therefore, our call to action is clear: we must prioritise and adequately fund menstrual health initiatives in our disaster response and preparedness strategies.

This addresses an urgent health need and affirms our commitment to the rights and dignity of all, particularly those most vulnerable during crises.

Asiko is the Head of Communications at Amref Health Africa in Kenya, while Onyango is Business Development Director, World Relief.

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