May 27, 2022
This MH Day, PSI and PSI-Europe are committing to meaningfully integrating MH into SRHR programming. Menstruation and menstrual health are critical components of SRHR and impact menstruating individuals at all stages of their reproductive lives. It's high time we meaningfully integrate this important component of SRHR into our programming. To allow us to do this effectively, we’re partnering with researchers like Mandi Tembo who do transformative research in this field to bridge the knowledge gap on MH-SRHR integration to advance the MH and SRHR agenda.
We sat down with Mandi to learn more about her path and the interesting and transformative research she’s conducting on MH and SRHR.
1. Tell us about yourself and your work?
My name is Mandi Tembo. I am a menstrual health (MH) expert and PhD research fellow with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the Biomedical Research and Training Institute (BRTI) based in Zimbabwe. I am extremely passionate about my work and committed to contributing to evidence-driven interventions that address MH and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes amongst young people and women in Zimbabwe and the greater east and southern African region. Specifically, my research work looks at the integration of MH in SRH service provision and investigates menstrual product choice and MH knowledge, practices, and perceptions among young women in Zimbabwe. Over the past five years, I have published in the areas of HIV, adolescent health, and gender transformation. I am also the founder of The Bleed Read – a virtual platform that comprehensively addresses and highlights all things menstrual health. The platform, informed by my MH research, is dedicated to bridging the MH knowledge gap and facilitating positive period dialogues in our communities.
2. Why is your work and menstrual health research more broadly-important?
Menstrual hygiene and menstrual health are integral to girls’ and women’s overall health and well-being. Many people living in resource-limited settings such as Zimbabwe are negatively affected by limited access to MH resources and support. Addressing menstrual health needs is essential for gender equality and global health. I strongly believe that we cannot rectify what we cannot identify. Hearing, amplifying, and investigating the narratives and experiences of girls, women, and people that menstruate from across the globe is key to addressing menstrual needs that will lead to better health outcomes and overall well-being for menstruating girls and women. Innovative and concise research plays an integral role in the journey toward addressing gendered health inequalities and ending period poverty.
3. Tell us about your research and research findings
As a Zimbabwean woman, I am excited and proud to be able to contribute to the growing body of research around MH and SRH. Nested within CHIEDZA, a larger clinical trial investigating the impact of community-based integrated HIV and SRH services for young women and men aged 16-24 years on population-level HIV virological outcomes in Zimbabwe, my MH study investigates the acceptability and effectiveness of comprehensive MH intervention among young women. In the intervention, we provided participants with a choice of MH products (period pants, reusable pads, and/or the menstrual cup; pain medication, underwear, a period tracking diary) and general MH education and support. Research findings show that the MH intervention was acceptable to participants and healthcare providers as it addressed the severe prevailing lack of access to menstrual health education, products, and support in the communities. The MH intervention also increased overall female engagement with CHIEDZA and other onsite SRH services such as HIV testing and family planning. Among eligible female participants, the MH product uptake and analgesic uptake were significantly high and proved to be key to MH intervention uptake and acceptability overall. We are still working on upcoming publications that highlight our findings. However, to date, I have published two papers looking at 1) MH product choice amongst young women in Zimbabwe and 2) the acceptability of the integration of a menstrual health intervention in a community-based sexual and reproductive health service for young people in Zimbabwe. My work adds to growing evidence in support of integrated MH and SRH service provision models and calls for comprehensive MH interventions that provide a choice of menstrual products, MH education and support, and pain management support.
4. This year, MH Day is about commitment to action. What are you committing to?
As a menstrual health enthusiast and researcher, I am committing to 1) generating excellent research that builds a strong foundation for evidence-based MH interventions in low- to middle-income countries and 2) advocating for MH and SRH service integration as we now know that MH is an acceptable pathway to having conversations around bodily autonomy, contraception, and other SRH issues deemed “sensitive” or taboo in more conservative settings.
5. What are some next steps for you? What are some of your future plans?
While my research has addressed some of the MH research gaps, it has also highlighted that there is still so much more to be investigated and done to address MH needs in Zimbabwe. It is evident that there is huge unmet need for comprehensive MH resources and support in households, communities, workplaces, schools, and other institutions in LMICs such as Zimbabwe. I hope to continue working within MH and SRH research with a focus on bringing awareness to and addressing the prevalence of menstrual pain and disorders such as endometriosis and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). I also hope to contribute to research work aimed at developing sustainable MH interventions and capacitating healthcare providers on MH-related care.
On a personal note, I plan to continue advocating for a period positive environment through public engagement activities that challenge the longstanding myths, taboos, and shame associated with menstruation, and to promote period positive dialogue and comprehensive MH education and support in the private and public sectors.