Africa: Symposium to Take Stock of Progress On Menstrual Health in Africa

Around 5000 participants from Africa and worldwide are expected to gather to track progress on menstrual health on the continent since the first Call to Action was made at the African Menstrual Health Symposium in Johannesburg in 2018. A follow-up event, the African Coalition Symposium on Menstrual Health, will be held virtually from 25 to 27 May, the African Coalition on Menstrual Health Management (ACMHM) has announced.

The 2018 MH symposium was co-hosted by the UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office and the Department of Women in the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa, and led to the establishment of the Coalition. It contributed to strengthened commitment to better respond to the menstrual health needs of people who menstruate throughout their reproductive life cycle, by supporting the evidence-base and showcasing a range of innovative and sustainable models.

The second event will take stock of menstrual health-related progress, good practices and lessons learned; and the integration and mainstreaming of menstrual health in sexual and reproductive health and rights policies and programmes. The symposium will define the next steps to be taken to fully realize the Call to Action, looking at innovative financing and innovative solutions such as digitalization.

This will bring together leading academic institutions, the private sector, donors, governments, Regional Economic Communities, celebrities, the entertainment industry, social entrepreneurs, young people and the media. The high-level panel discussions will feature leaders and champions; academics, community-led developers, innovators, young leaders and representatives of the private sector. This will be augmented by a series of country-led satellite sessions.

The ACMHM is a collaborative partnership of practitioners working on menstrual health, public health, and sexual and reproductive health and rights in Africa. It consists of almost 600 experts working in or interested in menstrual health issues, policy makers, young people, social entrepreneurs, civil society organizations and individuals. While it has notched commendable successes in its two years of operation, greater effort is needed to strengthen evidence-based and data-driven advocacy, policy development and implementation, programming that integrates menstrual health, and the need to ensure sustainable financing for implementing and monitoring programmes. Also a priority is the need to develop effective and innovative approaches to ensure a wider range of interventions, including products, supply management and distribution.

In Africa, efforts to improve the coordination of menstrual health across the continent are advancing, with joint advocacy conducted in countries such as Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zimbabwe resulting in the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) on menstrual products and the adoption of national standards for menstrual products in Uganda and South Africa, as well as the integration of menstrual health into school health, WASH, education and gender policies, strategies or guidelines in Cameroon, Nigeria and Ethiopia. These efforts have been taken further to include key policy decisions such as the diversification of menstrual products in an effort to improve choices and options for the various population and age groups.

To lessen the impact of COVID-19 on menstrual health, UNFPA and the ACMHM have advocated for the inclusion of menstrual products as essential items, the integration of menstrual health into other public health and pandemic responses, as well as the development of guidance documents. The ACMHM, Days for Girls & UNFPA publication, MHM Lessons Learnt from COVID-19 was published in October 2020.

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