The Makapads project in Uganda conducted research which revealed many girls were not attending school on the days they were menstruating due to lack of affordable protection materials. This meant that girls feared stigmatization due to soiling themselves while in school. Further research during field trials revealed that about 90% of the urban poor women and girls did not use (off-the-shelf) sanitary pads because they were expensive but improvised with unhealthy materials such as banana fibers, grass, leaves, old newspapers, and pieces of cloth.
In response to this, the project at Makerere University's Faculty of Technology now manufactures sanitary pads which are 75% cheaper and thus more affordable to the rural primary school girls who have started their menstruation. The sanitary pads (trademarked Makapads) are the first to be made 99% local materials with the main raw material being papyrus reeds, 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.
This stem is properly crushed using a rubber hammer to soften it. It is then dried under the sun and then sent for paper processing. Dried papyrus is mixed with water and waste paper or paper cut-offs from printing presses. 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. All tools used in the process are locally made or fabricated.
The softened material is then trimmed into pads of 5 cm by 20 cm using a paper cutter and is sealed into non-woven packing materials, bought from shops around town. The pads are sealed in packs of three and then exposed to the Ultra Violet light to kill off any bacteria or germs. During processing, the pads are tested to validate absorption capacity which is 3 to 8 times any pad on market. This is done through simple laboratory equipment consisting of a burette, sand and ink. The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) has also tested and approved the Makapads.
Apart from producing safe and cheap sanitary pads, other project achievements include development of simple cottage machines which are locally manufactured and that use more than 95% local materials. It has so far provided employment and skills development opportunities to women, girls, and men, working at different Makapads sub-processes The making of the papyrus sanitary pads is within the Increasing Retention Through Improved Literacy and Learner Friendly Schools in Uganda Project supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, aimed at creating a learner-friendly environment in schools.
Its partners include: Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) that oversees distribution, monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of the pads; Nakaseke Core Primary Teachers' College, and is in negotiation with the Government of Uganda -- especially the Ministry of Education -- to make it mandatory for all schools to avail Makapads to all schoolgirls at a cost of 650 Shillings for a packet of 10.