Makapads: Makerere University Makes Affordable Sanitary Pads
Makapads- finished product.

Makapads: Makerere University Makes Affordable Sanitary Pads

Affordable sanitary pads from papyrus to keep girls in school.

By John Isingoma
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First published: December 16, 2006

The sanitary pads on the market cost more than 2,000 shillings, money that many primary and secondary school girls especially in rural areas cannot afford. Girls and women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds have got reason to smile, thanks to the innovation of Makapads at Makerere University's Faculty of Technology that has developed cheap and efficient sanitary pads made from papyrus.

Makerere University's Faculty of Technology
Makerere University's Faculty of Technology.

The dream innovation that is spearheaded by Dr. Moses Musaazi began in 2003 with the objectives to develop a simple, cottage and locally manufactured machine that makes affordable, yet safe sanitary pads and the schoolgirls to be able to buy them at a maximum of US Cents 50, an equivalent of around Ush. 900 for a packet of 10.

The sanitary pads (trademarked Makapads) are the first ones to be made from local materials in Uganda.

According to Dr. Moses Musaazi, the innovation is relevant because earlier research had found that many disadvantaged primary schoolgirls absent themselves during menstrual periods. Those that attend do so under stigma and tension for fearing to soil themselves. The absenteeism leads to poor academic performance and subsequent dropping out of school by the girls. That is how the Makerere University Faculty of Technology came up with this initiative, with the primary objective being to retain primary schoolgirls instead of dropping out of school because of absenteeism during their menstrual periods.

More research by Makapads during field trials revealed that about 90% of the urban poor women and girls do not use (off-the-shelf) sanitary pads but improvise with pieces of cloth, paper, among other things. The reason for this is that imported pads are too expensive, hence the need for affordable, safe sanitary pads.

The Rockefeller Foundation funded project has so far provided employment and skills development opportunities to women, girls and men who are working at different sub-processes of making Makapads.

Recently, the project won an award from UN Habitat for being an excellent innovation in 2006. The project chief investigator, Dr. Musaazi was also rewarded with $3,000 (Ush5.5 million). The project is one of the three initiatives ruled as outstanding in Uganda that will compete for more awards in Nairobi later this year.

The project has also got partners in Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), which takes charge of distribution, monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of the pads, and Nakaseke Core Primary Teachers' College, which collaborates with MISR.

Dr. Musaazi tells Ultimate Media that he is in negotiation with the government especially the Ministry of Education to make it mandatory for all schools to avail the Makapads to all schoolgirls. They are availing the pads at 650 shillings for a packet of 10.

Nathan Mukibi, a researcher with Makapads, says that Makapads are better than other pads which use cotton wool which is not as good absorbent as what you get from papyrus reeds, the main ingredient for the Makapads. Mukibi says that with Makapads, blood absorption is 3 to 8 times of any pad on market and therefore one can use one pad for 8-12 hours.

The process
Makapads are 99% local materials and the main raw material is papyrus reeds, which is cut from the vast, abundant swamps and riverbanks all over the country. After the papyrus is cut, the green cover is peeled off and the white stem is what is used in the making of the pads.

The white stem is properly crushed using a rubber hammer to soften it. It is then dried under the sun and then sent to the next stage. The next stage is about paper processing where the dried papyrus is mixed with water and waste paper or paper cut-offs from printing presses or any printery. The mixture of pounded paper and crushed papyrus is put in a rectangular box with a sheave for drying. After the mixture has dried, it is then taken for softening and smoothening in a softening machine. Note the all the tools so far used are locally made or fabricated.

The Making of Makapads
The Making of Makapads
The Making of Makapads.

The softened material is then trimmed into pads of 5 cm by 20 cm using a paper cutter. The pads are then sealed into non-woven packing materials, which are bought from shops around town. The sealing machines, which seal three pads at ago, are imported but still fitted with stands made from Makerere's Faculty of Technology.

After sealing the pads, the final stage is to expose them to the UV(ultra violent) light to kill off any bacteria or germs, which might have entered the pads during the processing.

"But how about the quality of the pads? How is it ascertained?" one may ask. During the processing, the pads are tested to be sure of their absorption capacity. Using simple laboratory equipment of a burette, sand and ink, the pads' absorption capacity is tested. Better still, the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) has tested and approved the Makapads. All the more reason for many girls and women to smile.

By John Isingoma
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First published: December 16, 2006
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John Isingoma is a member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. A social scientist by training, Isingoma is the Executive Secretary at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and after years training and practice in the media has become a dedicated writer and researcher.