Menstruation can be a vulnerable time for the body. As the cervix opens to allow blood to flow, a mucus plug, which normally protects the cervix, is removed, leaving a conduit for bacteria to enter. The pH of the vaginal tract also changes during this time, making yeast infections more likely, and the risk of passing or contracting blood-borne diseases like HIV or Hepatitis B increases during menstruation if a woman has unprotected sex. Source.
Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to bacterial vaginosis (BV), and an increased risk of reproductive tract infections (RTIs), which can in turn lead to maternal issues, such as preterm birth, sexually transmitted infections, postpartum infections, complications after abortion or caesarian section, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are also commonly caused by poor hygiene. A study done in India found that women using reusable sanitary pads were more likely to have urogenital symptoms and infections than those using disposable pads. Source.
Menstrual hygiene involves not just keeping the body clean, but having clean and sterile materials to use. Resuable pads can be problematic, as they may be washed without soap or water, and hung to dry indoors, where air and sunlight, a natural sterilizer, can’t reach them. They also need to be stored in a clean, dry area. Unclean, chemical-laden rags are sometimes used as well, which can introduce bacteria if inserted into the vagina. Tampons, especially if used for long periods of time, can lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). Infrequent changing of pads can lead to skin irritation, which can become infected. Source.
And some girls and women resort to uncomfortable and dangerous materials such as mud, cow dung, and leaves.
Informing girls about the health risks of poor menstrual hygiene is critical during puberty, and can help them avoid lifelong health issues. Community Development Network of Cameroon is helping girls stay healthy by raising funds to provide sanitary pads and menstrual cups to more than 1,500 girls in over 300 schools in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon.