India’s Tampon King update: Low-cost napkins gaining traction

The World

India's Tampon King — as a GlobalPost editor misnamed inventor Arunachalam Muruganantham when I profiled him awhile back — is making some progress with his low-cost machine that manufactures sanitary napkins, according to the Guardian.

Currently more than 600 machines made by his start-up company, Jayaashree Industries, are installed across 23 states in India. In spite of numerous offers, Muruganantham refuses to sell his innovation to the corporate world. "I didn't take the money route because I saw my parents struggle for survival," he explains. "I knew that this machine could provide a sustainable livelihood for many rural women."

His company sells the £1,600 machines directly to rural women with the help of bank loans, as well as through NGOs and women's self-help groups. An operator can learn the entire towel-making process in three hours and then employ three others to help with processing and distribution.

The Guardian points out that 88% of women in India resort to using ashes, newspapers, dried leaves and even husk sand during their periods, with the result that more than 70% of Indian women suffer from reproductive tract infections, increasing the risk of contracting associated cancers.

But as I wrote in 2010, the government has taken little or no interest in Muruganantham's brilliant invention — which not only provides a dirt cheap alternative to the sanitary napkins made by Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark, but also provides a means of livelihood for local women who become manufacturers. Instead, it's been keen to subsidize the multinationals.

A "napkin scam"?  Perhaps not.  But certainly a wasted opportunity.

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