Exploring menstrual products: A systematic review and meta-analysis of reusable menstrual pads for public health internationally

Anna Maria Van Eijk, Naduni Jayasinghe, Garazi Zulaika, Linda Mason, Muthusamy Sivakami, Holger W. Unger, Penelope A. Phillips-Howard

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Background Girls and women need effective, safe, and affordable menstrual products. Single-use menstrual pads and tampons are regularly provided by agencies among resource-poor populations. Reusable menstrual pads (RMPs: Fabric layers sewn together by an enterprise for manufacture of menstrual products) may be an effective alternative. Methods For this review (PROSPERO CRD42020179545) we searched databases (inception to November 1, 2020) for quantitative and qualitative studies that reported on leakage, acceptability, or safety of RMPs. Findings were summarised or combined using forest plots (random- effects meta-analysis). Potential costs and environmental savings associated with RMPs were estimated. Results A total of 44 studies were eligible (-14,800 participants). Most were conducted in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC, 78%), and 20% in refugee settings. The overall quality of studies was low. RMP uptake in cohort studies ranged from 22-100% (12 studies). One Ugandan trial among schoolgirls found leakage with RMPs was lower (44.4%, n = 72) compared to cloths (78%, n = 111, p<0.001). Self-reported skin-irritation was 23.8% after 3 months among RMP-users in a Ugandan cohort in a refugee setting (n = 267), compared to 72.8% at baseline with disposable pad use. There were no objective reports on infection. Challenges with washing and changing RMP were reported in LMIC studies, due to lack of water, privacy, soap, buckets, and sanitation/drying facilities. Among 69 brands, the average price for an RMP was $8.95 (standard deviation [sd] $5.08; LMIC $2.06, n = 10, high- income countries [HIC] $10.11), with a mean estimated lifetime of 4.3 years (sd 2.3; LMIC 2.9, n = 11; HIC 4.9 years, n = 23). In 5-year cost-estimates, in LMICs, 4-25 RMPs per period would be cheaper (170-417 US$) than 9-25 single-use pads, with waste-savings of -600-1600 single-use pads. In HICs, 4-25 RMPs would be cheaper (33-245 US$) compared to 20 single-use tampons per period, with waste-savings of -1300 tampons. Conclusion RMPs are used internationally and are an effective, safe, cheaper, and environmentally friendly option for menstrual product provision by programmes. Good quality studies in this field are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0257610
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalPLoS One
Issue number9 September
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


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