--Health authority says it is not the government’s responsibility to provide pads for them
By: R. Joyclyn Wea
In about a year now since Liberia confirmed her COVID-19 Index case, little over 819 females have tested positive for the virus with 40 dead and 779 recovered as of June 26, 2021.
Since the outbreak in March of last year, there has been series of complications for women and young girls especially those in precautionary, isolation, and treatment units across Liberia
These individuals have had no access to menstrual hygiene materials apart from the treatment they receive at the different Units across the nation.
We have 4520 cases and 133 deaths as of July 2. Health authorities say they are not really concern about the provision of pads but how the patients can get well and go back home.
“For the days I spent under treatment at the 14th Military Hospital, I did not hear or see health workers giving patients pads apart from the food and medicine,” a COVID-19 survivor narrated.
She continued: “I was menstruating when taken to the unit, so I managed to take my pads along that’s what saved me”
The situation has reportedly forced females at treatment and observation units to use face masks, towers, or pieces of cloth, whichever one is available to them.
“But there were others at the unit who had to use masks and towers because there was no way to get pads”.
“I was taken to the 14th military hospital on April 15, 2020. I usually see my menses on the 21st of each month, but because of the fear and pressure it forced my menses to come on the 17th of April,” another survivor disclosed, adding, “I did speak with one of the doctors about it, and she told me that there was nothing of such at the facility and that the government did not make any provision to that effect.”
And because she had no access to pads, she noted that she was constrained to use face masks instead.
“I had to use masks because that was the only thing available to me at that time,” she said.
“not that I cannot afford pads, but I was under treatment and prevented from going out and on the other hand, my family members were also denied seeing me.”
This situation is not unique to this survivor as were many other who experienced similar “nightmare.”
“In fact, I was not the only one that had this terrible experience. Other women who were sharing the same space with me encountered the same. As a matter of fact, it was one of them who gave me the idea of using masks,” the source noted.
The former Director-General of the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL), Dr. Mosaka Fallah, who was also the head of the Incident Management System (IMS), confirmed sometime last year that the IMS has not been issuing sanitary pads to female Covod-19 patients.
He added that it was pointless to give sanitary pads when these women are just at the treatment and observation units for fourteen days. “From On our side as a health authority, we do not give sanitary pads. These women only spend fourteen days at the Treatment Unit what will they do with sanitary pads?” Dr. Fallahsasked rhetorically
He claimed health authorities are more concerned with saving the lives at the different precautionary, isolation, and treatment Centers by providing them with the necessary medication, food and “not the other way round—noting that there is no budget for the provision of pads as the money is straightly intended for COVID-19 related activities (contact tracing, treatment, etc).
The IMS head was relieved of his post a couple of months ago but current head of the IMS are yet to remedy the situation and are jittery when inquiries are made.
Every woman experience her monthly period at different times. Fourteen days is enough for a lady to see her menstrual circle, Atty. Mmonbeydo Nadia Juah.
Late April, a humanitarian organization donated dignitary pads to women and girls under treatment at the 14th Military Hospital in Margibi County. None of such gesture has been seen in any part of the country since.
When contacted, a member of the IMS noted that the provision of sanitary pads to COVID patients is not part of his scope of duty.
Dr. Jerry Brown who appeared jittery upon being asked said he have to inquire from his team whether they are issuing pads to patients under treatment as that is not part of his TOR.
“We have some at the facility and we give them when the need arises, so I need to find out whether they are giving it to them.” Dr. Brown, who was not even sure of the policy, said. He added, “When you asked for it, we will give it to you, if you don’t ask we will not give it to you.
Women rights activists are calling on the government to adopt a new approach to the situation, which they described as unfortunate. They are calling for the adoption of a policy where sanitary pads will be available at every health facility where women are admitted for treatment.
The Program Manager at Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH), Ms. Musu D. Kamara called for stakeholder’s attention to the critical need for increased access to improved menstrual hygiene education for girls especially during this period of Coronavirus spread.
“Our women deserve better and must be treated with respect. The government needs to start providing pads for women at every health facility where women are allowed to seek treatment. This is not too much for our people,” she said.
Lack of access to sexual reproductive health, especially menstruation has been an old age problem in Liberia as many women and girls cannot afford the cost of hygiene materials even those in the urban areas.
This situation, Ms. Kamara said is even worse under the pandemic resulting in limited access to resources to get essential daily needs of young women.
A similar situation occurred during the Ebola virus outbreak in Liberia (2014 to 2016). Women again faced a serious challenge to access dignitary pads until late 2015 until civil society organizations began flagging the issue.
There is a high possibility for women and girls to get infected with diseases if they continue to use unsafe measures (towers, facial masks) to prevent menstrual fluid, Miema Trinity, former family health coordinator for Plan Parenthood Association of Liberia says.
Menstruation is a natural and vital part of the reproductive cycle, experienced by approximately half of the human population. Menstrual health and hygiene is a matter of human right according to the Watch .
The group noted that menstrual hygiene rights are connected to the right to non-discrimination, to health and healthy environment, education and work. The right to health is also at risk as women using unclean cloth without the ability to wash at greater risk of developing infections.
Soliciting views of scores of women on the current situation confronting women and girls at the different COVID treatment units across the nation, Ms. Janet Jackson said men and boys are important to breaking the taboo around menstruation.
She said it was one of her brothers who provided her an initial education on the subject.
“There is a serious need to create awareness about menstruation for both boys and girls in order for this to be treated like every other topic,” Edwina Kyne, another lady, recommended.
Kyne further emphasized that being a man puts Dr. Fallahs in a difficult situation in terms of understanding the importance of pads noting, “This is the first thing health officials should have taken into account before placing these women into isolation.”
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Right(JHR), through its Mobilizing Media inthe Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with FrontPage Africa.