Friday, 13 February 2015

Sanitary Creed

Not too long ago we reported on Alfredo Moser, the bottle light inventor of Brazil, whose fame deserved greater recognition, as he fundamentally improved the lot of the poor in may parts of the globe .... well here's another name to add to that unsung hall of fame. Arunachalam Muruganantham, and that's a real mouthful in any language, is probably not known to you or many others (although he has had some publicity recently), but he has also come up with something that has fundamentally improved the lives of millions of women in the third world.

He invented a cheap 'do it yourself' sanitary towel maker ..... not something the women in the pampered West think about much, but their 'sisters' in the undeveloped world find this a real worry, and the cost of standard products so prohibitive (only 12% of women across India can afford to use sanitary pads), that they often use dirty rags (not being able to publicly wash or clean them in front of men, because of more Taboo's), or even other unhygienic substances, such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash. Women are even banned from any public activities while menstruating, including collecting daily water - a task of several hours each day. Its to the eternal shame of Rocket Launching, Nuclear Armed India, that approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in the country are caused by poor menstrual hygiene (as well as more than 50% of the population having to still defecate in public).

He found out on a visit to buy one towel for his wife (it was such a taboo in India that he didn't even understand that menstruation was monthly, and lasted more than one day), that 10g (less than 0.5oz) of cotton, which at the time cost 10 paise (£0.001), was selling for 4 rupees (£0.040) - 40 times the price, when called a sanitary towel. He decided that this was unfair, and he determined to find a cheaper alternative for his wife and mother.

His research was over many years and came with no little personal cost to himself - he earned little in his day job, and got little backing elsewhere .... he even lost his wife and mother "I'd started the research for my wife and after 18 months she left me!" (they later returned) ... but eventually he came up with a system of creating a low-cost method for the production of sanitary towels. It had few simple steps. 
  1. First, a machine similar to a kitchen grinder breaks down the hard cellulose into fluffy material, 
  2. Which is packed into rectangular cakes with another machine. 
  3. The cakes are then wrapped in non-woven cloth and 
  4. Finally they are disinfected in an ultraviolet treatment unit. 

Arunachalam Muruganantham - Third World Hero

The whole process can be learned in an hour.The machines are kept deliberately simple and skeletal so that they can be maintained by the women themselves. A manual machine costs around 75,000 Indian rupees (£723) and  a semi-automated machine costs more. Each machine produces enough pads each month for 3,000 women, and provides jobs for 10 other women.

They can make 200-250 pads a day which sell for an average of about 2.5 rupees (£0.025) each - Western NGO small loans are used to set the women up .... and the business model has empowered the women who produce the sanitary pads to sell them directly to the customer. This bypasses another cultural taboo, as when customers get them from women they know, they can also acquire important information on how to use them. Purchasers may not even need any money - many women barter for onions and potatoes.

It's a fact, that a woman in the third world who earns an extra $10 in monthly income, puts that into family health and education, whereas it takes an extra $110 pcm for a man, in order to get the same $10 a family outcome boost ..... so Mr Muruganantham's hard work and personal sacrifice (he has only got a modest house and income from this), has benefited many families, and not just the women.

Last word to this good man  "If you get rich, you have an apartment with an extra bedroom - and then you die."


  1. Another who should get a Nobel prize for doing something practical for the world.

    1. Can't disagree .... my views on who deserves a Nobel Prize are aired on many posts.


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