TENKASI: The Menstrual Hygiene programme was launched in 2012 with an objective to provide free sanitary napkins to young girls. But last year, as the lockdown set in, the supply of sanitary pads to adolescent girls was disrupted in rural parts of the district.
Adolescent girls, both school and non-school going, in the age group of 10 and 19 years, were to receive three packs of beltless sanitary napkins once every two months. Each pack contained six pads. If one goes by the word of the Health Department, 31,83,023 rural girls have received a regular supply of napkins from April 2019 to February 2020. "I received napkin packs in the Government Higher Secondary School, Alangulam till March 2020. The napkins were of high quality," said Mariammal, a Class X student.
"When the school was closed during the lockdown last year, we were asked to collect the napkin packs from the Anganwadi centres or Health Sub Centres. Even though my friends and I paid a visit to these centres many times, we were told that there was no stock of napkin packs. We felt embarrassed to ask for it again and again so we stopped going there and started purchasing our own napkins from medical shops," she added. Another schoolgirl from Kuthapanchan village alleged that one of her friends was forced to use cloth after her parents lost their jobs during the lockdown and could not afford napkins.
Some of the girls in Kadayanallur and Kadayam blocks also had a similar tale to tell but the girls in Surandai of Keezhapavoor block and Vadamalaipatti of Alangulam block said that unlike other villages, they are being given uninterrupted supply of napkins by the local Anganwadi workers despite the lockdown restrictions.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, Gomathi, a Village Health Nurse stationed in Ramnagar of Alangulam block, said that the district bifurcation was behind the shortage of napkins in 2019. "After the bifurcation of the combined Tirunelveli district to create Tenkasi district, some villages attached with the Pappakudi block were moved under Alangulam block. Due to this, we were asked to handover the napkin packs to the Pappakudi block health unit. Last month we received three boxes of napkins. We could distribute them to only 50 girls of Thazhaiyoothu, Ramnagar and Keezha Kuthapanchan. When we receive the next lot of napkins, we will supply the same to girls of Kalathimadam, Parambu and Mela Kuthapanchan," she added.
When contacted by The New Indian Express, Thaniya, Project Officer, Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), Tenkasi said that there is no supply chain issue in the napkin distribution. "Normally Anganwadi workers distribute napkins to non-school going girls. But they have started helping village nurses after schools were shut. If the girls bring their issues to us, we would resolve them," she added. Collector S Gopala Sundararaj said that he would ask authorities of the Directorate of Public Health and Preventive Medicine and ICDS to look into the issues pertaining to the napkin distribution.
Apart from rural adolescent girls, Tamil Nadu government also gives free sanitary napkins to postnatal mothers treated in government health institutions, women prison inmates and women in-patients at Institute of Mental Health Chennai. The government had allotted Rs61 crore annually for this scheme. Recently, the DMK government extended the Menstrual Hygiene Programme to the urban areas.