In a move to improve menstrual hygiene practices in India, the government will offer sanitary pads at all of its Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana stores from May-end. Not only are these pads, branded 'Suvidha', expected to be a third the price of napkins currently available in the market, they will also be environmentally friendly because they are biodegradable, according to Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers Ananth Kumar.
The Bureau of Pharma Public Sector Undertakings of India is expected to decide the manufacturer through a tender process and the pads will be available at all Janaushadhi stores from May 28, according to the minister.
The government aims to cater to all women in the Below Poverty Line category, he said.
"In the first phase, all 3,200 PJBJP outlets will sell...Later, we will again brainstorm and decide how to expand the program," the minister said.
There are currently over 3,200 PMBJP stores dispensing generic medicines at less than half the prices in the open market, stated a release by the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers.
The average market price of a pack of four sanitary pads is Rs 32, whereas the price of a similar pack of biodegradable pads will be Rs10 at PMBJP stores, according to the release.
Poor menstrual hygiene can cause final infections, reproductive tract infection, urinary tract infection, cervical cancer and infertility, according to the ministry.
"Disposable sanitary pads are the cheapest and most readily available, so its use is being promoted," it stated. At the same time, most disposable pads available in the country contain chemicals, gels and plastic sheets that pose health hazards and create "a lot" of waste that is poorly managed, it added.
India generates estimated 13 tonnes of menstrual waste annually in the form of 12.3 billion disposed sanitary pads, the ministry said cutting a report by PATH, Water aid and Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.
More than two-thirds of women in urban centres use hygienic methods of protection during periods, but this number is not even half in rural areas, according to the National Family Health Survey 2015-2016.