Hygienic use of absorbent products during menstruation is a challenge for young women in India, especially among the underprivileged, who lack knowledge and access to resources. Reuse of menstrual absorbents can be unhygienic and result in adverse health and other outcomes.
Data from the 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey-4 for 233,606 menstruating women aged 15-24 were used to examine levels and correlates of exclusive use of disposable absorbents during menstruation. Bivariate and logistic regression analyses were conducted to identify disparities in exclusive use by such characteristics as caste, mass media exposure and interaction with health workers.
Exclusive use of disposable absorbents was low among young women overall (37%), and varied substantially by caste and other characteristics. Compared with women from general castes, those from scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes had reduced odds of exclusive disposable absorbent use (odds ratios, 0.8-0.9). Disposable absorbent use was negatively associated with lower levels of education and household wealth, and rural residence. Compared with women who reported daily media exposure, those exposed less frequently had reduced odds of disposable absorbent use (0.7-0.9). Among those who recently met with a health worker, odds of use were lower if menstrual hygiene had not been discussed (0.9).
Promoting awareness of proper menstrual hygiene—through education, media campaigns and discussion with reproductive health workers—and targeted interventions to disseminate and subsidize the purchase of disposable sanitary napkins should be pursued to address health disparities.
Usha Ram is professor, Manas R. Pradhan is assistant professor, Sunita Patel is senior research fellow, and F. Ram is director (superannuated)-all with the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, India.