During her time of the month, Arunachalam Muruganantham’s wife had two choices: use a soiled rag or spend the family’s milk budget to buy basic commercial pads. Husks, dried leaves, sawdust, and newspapers are also being used by 88 percent of reproductive-aged women in India.
So he designed relatively simple devices so that women living in rural India could make their own sanitary pads, Businessweek reports.
After testing some prototypes using a soccer ball bladder filled with goat’s blood strapped to his waist, Muruganantham ended up with a series of small machines that use mechanical processes to convert pine wood pulp into a sanitary napkin:
The pulp is defibrated, or separated into its fibrous components, using a grinder. This turns hard cellulose into a fluffy material.
The defibered pulp is packed into a block and pressed by a core-forming machine.
The pressed cores are wrapped in non-woven fabric and disinfected in a UV treatment unit.
Then it’s sealed by machine, and a position sticker is pasted on.
According to the Jayaashree Industries website, the machines cost approximately 75,000 rupees (about $1,200) each -- though set-up and training, or the semi-automated version, would add to the cost. Each can produce two pads a minute, which sell for about 2.5 rupees ($0.04) each. They’re kept deliberately simple so that they can be maintained by the women themselves, BBC explains. Muruganantham thinks that up to 10 women can gain employment per installation.
It took Muruganantham four and a half years of research and test, and another 18 months to build 250 machines, which he distributed in underdeveloped states in Northern India. The machines have since spread to 1,300 villages in 23 states in India, BBC reports. And the benefits go beyond public health, Businessweek explains:
The lack of adequate menstrual supplies can keep girls out of school and women out of the work force. Some estimates suggest that giving women more opportunities in India could boost the country’s economic growth rate by about 4 percentage points.
Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York.
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.04cents x 2/min x 60min/hr x 10hr/day = $48/day. Using 1/8 that to pay off the machine will pay it off in $1200 / $6/day = 200 days. (With interest and/or investor's profit, the payoff would take about a year.) Figure another 1/8 for supplies and maintenance. That leaves $36/day of profit for the operators. If that is 10 women, then that's $3.60/day for each woman. Multiplying by, say, 300 working days/year, it comes out to $1080/year. According to Wikipedia, the average per capita income in India is $1219. So this machine sounds like a good thing for rural Indian women (assuming income is less than average for rural women, which is probably a good assumption for most countries).