Kenyan-based ZanaAfrica creates affordable sanitary pad with high quality

Kenyan social enterprise ZanaAfrica Group is recognized as a leading innovator in global health, education and development with the receipt of the highly selective "Phase II Grand Challenges Exploration" grant, a partnership between Grand Challenges Canada (which is funded by the Government of Canada) and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This second round of funding supports ZanaAfrica's systemic approach to revolutionize female health and empowerment -- creating an affordable, accessible, locally manufactured sanitary pad from low-cost materials, thus producing sustainable economic benefits throughout the supply chain. This approach has given ZanaAfrica a spot as one of six organizations out of the 270 initial Grand Challenges Exploration projects to receive Phase II funding to date.

The Problem

"Menstruation is the most important factor affecting school drop-out among girl [and is a key barrier] to achieving Millennium Development Goals" - UNDP & UNICEF, 2007

Sanitary pads and related health education is a pervasive global health concern which directly impedes the productivity of females worldwide.

Girls miss up to six weeks of school per year due to menstruation

Women lose key hours of work per month

Common sanitary pad substitutes are unhygienic and often result in chronic untreated infections increasing susceptibility to STDs/ HIV, along with pregnancy complications

Unfortunately, Menstrual Hygiene Management often falls between silos of programs such as Water Sanitation and Health, global health, and education. ZanaAfrica along with funding partners Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are at the forefront of working to change this, combining sustainable product innovation with policy work.

ZanaAfrica's Innovative Solution

For decades the disposable sanitary pad industry has relied exclusively on expensive softwood pine fiber for the absorbent fluff in pads, which is primarily sourced in North America and Scandanavia, and consumes nearly half of raw material costs. The Grand Challenges Exploration Phase II funding supports further research and development to process alternative fibers for use in the large-scale production of sanitary pads with wings.

ZanaAfrica's technological leap enables a dramatic cost reduction while maintaining high quality. Their solution offers a radically affordable pad through a market-based approach to support both a woman-to-woman sales model as well as direct sales to non-profits or governments to provide pads for free to schoolgirls. Other social enterprises making sanitary pads tend towards a semi-automated process difficult to scale.

Interim innovative financing to support girls includes the new female-focused crowdfunding platform For only $15/year, individuals can support a girl in Kenya with an annual supply of pads, underpants, and health education. Donations are tax-deductible and 100% go to Kenya. ZanaAfrica's goal is to raise support for 10,000 girls by January 2014, which is the beginning of a new school year in Kenya.

"We are thrilled to continue to innovate through Grand Challenges Explorations to unlock girls' and women's productivity through affordable pads and health education," says founder and CEO Megan White Mukuria, a Harvard graduate and 13-year resident of Kenya. "As we continue R&D, we look forward to locally producing and test a branded pad in Kenya in the coming months so that girls and women can retain their dignity and thrive as focused students, productive workers, and informed mothers," adds Mukuria.

"Canada is committed to saving and improving the lives of women and children," says Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada. "With such promising early results, we are proud to support the scaling of this bold idea so that the benefits of empowering women and girls can achieve widespread effect."

To date, ZanaAfrica has supported 10,000 girls with annual supplies of sanitary pads, underpants, and health education. Said the Kibera-based mother of one beneficiary, "My daughter did not like studying, but since [getting support from ZanaAfrica] she wakes up at 4:00am, studies until 5:30am, and then goes to school. ZanaAfrica is meeting the needs of our girls and reducing the pressure in areas parents sometime struggle with such as teaching children about life and sex."



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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