Addressing the Menstrual Health Needs of Adolescents in India
Since the launch of the National Health Mission in 2005, India has spearheaded policies, schemes and school health programs to prioritize menstrual health for adolescent girls. Yet, studies show that almost 71% of Indian girls have no knowledge of menstruation before their first period.
In order to address knowledge gaps and challenges pertaining to the menstrual health needs of adolescent girls in India, Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai organized two workshops with educators and pediatric practitioners, in collaboration with Dr. Lauren Houghton, Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. These workshops were a part of the Center’s Period of Life: Improving Menstrual Health and Knowledge in India project to de-stigmatize and de-pathologize menstruation. Inviting contributionsfrom key stakeholders in the education and healthcare sectors, the first workshop, entitled Hormones and Menstrual Health: Educating Adolescents on the Science of Menstruation, was held on October 19, 2022, with schools and grassroot organizations. The second workshop, entitled Menstruation as a Vital Sign: Exploring Menstrual Care in Pediatric Practice, was held on October 20, 2022, with pediatricians and nurses.
Both the workshops emphasized how holistic and integrated interventions, which focus on the lifecourse approach to menstrual health, are essential to improve the menstrual knowledge of adolescents. Sharing her work in this area, Dr. Houghton described the lifetime importance of establishing healthy behaviors during adolescence to avoid menstrual disorders that are shaped by physiological and biocultural factors that occur early in life. Her presentation focused on menstruation as a sign of health and disease, where variations in the underlying hormones are also associated with increased risk of chronic diseases including polycystic ovary syndrome, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease in adulthood.
Educators recommended linking education to positive health-seeking behaviors in school through the management of menstrual symptoms, and importance laid on diet, nutrition and physical activity. Sensitizing male teachers and fathers, and creating a repository of educational resources contextualized for Indian adolescents and their parents, particularly from rural areas, were other key recommendations to improve menstrual knowledge and de-stigmatize menstruation in schools and homes.
The second workshop explored the inclusion of menstrual care and awareness in routine pediatric practice to identify abnormal menstrual patterns in adolescence and improve detection of potential health concerns in adulthood. Highlighting the benefits of educating parents on puberty and preparing them for menstruation before its onset, pediatric practitioners advocated for family education in the pre-adolescent phase, and recommended periodic visits to adolescent-friendly clinics to access menstrual healthcare.
In her concluding remarks, Dr. Houghton noted, “With proper education and support from parents, teachers and doctors, adolescents can become self-aware about their bodies and self-advocate for their menstrual health, thereby reducing menstrual stigma.”