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Eight Hours, One Pad And A Diaper: Stories Of Doctors Who Bleed On COVID Duty

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Working in a hospital for hours, wearing a PPE kit, drenched in sweat, has always been tough for healthcare workers. But, the situation is even worse for menstruating people. These exhausting work hours, even during periods, have tremendously affected the physical and psychological health of the workers, leading to yet other problems.

The Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) consists of coveralls that are worn over the scrub suit, along with a headcover, a face mask, gloves, goggles, a face shield, and rubber boots. Proper World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines have to be taken into consideration while donning and doffing a PPE, due to its exposure to the virus-proximity and the possibility of spreading it. Once worn a healthcare worker cannot remove it in the middle of the work, restricting them to eat, drink or even visit the washroom.

Representational image.

Experiences Of A Healthcare Worker having To Menstruate In A PPE Kit

While all these restrictions have turned out to be a huge challenge for all the healthcare workers, menstruating people have had to make more compromises. Since their duty lasts for a continuous 6 to 8 hours wearing a PPE kit, most menstruating healthcare workers eat or drink water all at once to avoid eating or drinking anything once duty starts.

 “…I drink plenty of water before entering the restricted area… other medical staff do the same thing. But after one or hour or so, we feel like having at least one sip. But we can’t. This is because if anyone takes off even a small part of the PPE suit, they face the danger of catching the infection”, told a healthcare worker tothe Indian Express.

With no possibility of going to the washroom for hours even during the periods, they have started wearing sanitary pads with a diaper for extra protection. However, wearing a pad for prolonged hours puts them at risk of the urinary tract infection and other bacterial infections.

 “The environment inside the PPE is very hot and humid. And since you do not get to change your pad for six to eight hours, the humidity and heat can lead to infection in the genital tract,” said Dr. Richa Sareen, Fortis Hospital Vasant Kunj.

As most hospitals are already short-staffed, these healthcare workers cannot even take leaves. Instead, they take painkillers to reduce the period pains and report for work. Some staff nurses are even popping pills to delay their menstrual cycle. A lot of them are concerned about their menstrual hygiene since some hospitals don’t have a separate washroom.

Psychological Impact

A UNICEF brief, which came out in April 2020, focused on the menstrual health and hygiene of women during COVID-19. It elaborated the methods of safe and accessible WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) during menstruation. This brief even emphasised on the mental and psychological health of the healthcare workers, talking about the chances of women workers developing stress and anxiety.

Due to tremendous work pressure, exhausting work hours and long shifts, professionals who menstruate have started facing problems including PCOS. A survey revealed that this pandemic is taking a significant toll on women working in health and social care. Also, 72% of the respondents believed that due to COVID-19 their jobs were having a negative impact on their mental health.

“The United Nations and UNICEF recommend that female health workers be provided with a sufficient quantity of menstrual hygiene materials and that female health care workers be allowed breaks every four hours. The menstrual pads should be made of high absorbency materials. Women should have access to separate washrooms and should also be provided pain killers if needed,” Dr Wiqar Shaikh told Mid-Day.

Warrior? Or Not?

Dr Kamna Kakkar shared her personal experience of menstruating in a PPE kit, with The Print. Through this detailed piece, along with elaborating her experience, she talks about the societal shame around periods. “I realised how privileged I have been all my life to have access to menstrual hygiene products,” said Kakkar, talking about the importance of menstrual hygiene.

She renounces having called herself a “warrior” who bled on the line of duty saying, “Am I not just another regular woman doing my job? Regular women menstruate while working — nothing heroic about it. However, unlike me, who bled freely by choice, if one has to menstruate without a pad or a tampon out of compulsion, it makes her a victim of social apathy. The Indian women labourers who’re delivering babies on the road, and within an hour, walking back home —are they heroes? No, they’re victims too. They’re losing blood with every step they take.”

While these unusual times have affected everyone, it has been a little more difficult for women and people who menstruate. Whatever it may be, one thing is absolutely clear, that despite all these situations women have yet again emerged out as victorious.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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