Several GOAL-supported Mothers' Groups in Malawi are using their experience of sewing menstrual sanitary pads to begin manufacturing face masks to contribute to their community's response to COVID-19.
They’ve already been supporting disadvantaged schoolgirls in Malawi by sewing and manufacturing reusable sanitary pads. Now, groups of African mothers are diversifying their design skills to create much-needed reusable face masks to protect communities from the spread of COVID-19.
Several mothers’ groups from the Machinga and Nsanje districts of Malawi, which are supported by GOAL, have taken the initiative to start manufacturing hundreds of face masks in the coming weeks.
As well as filling a demand for masks at a time when there is a global shortage, the groups’ work will also act as an income stream for women who struggle to make enough to feed their families.
Menstrual Hygiene Management
These sewing groups are made up of mothers and school patrons who normally work to support adolescent girls in schools by manufacturing reusable menstrual sanitary pads. Due to a stigma surrounding girls’ periods in many parts of Africa, young girls often missing several days of school a month during menstruation. By providing young girls with these pads, they are able to manage their menstruation in a more effective way. They can continue to attend school and reduce the negative impact on their education.
Since 2017, mothers’ groups have been provided with training around menstrual hygiene management, which eventually led to training on reusable pad design. To support this, GOAL also helps groups to access sewing machines on loan, which they pay back using the small profit they make through the sewing activities. At the same time, GOAL encourages these groups to also form a savings and loans group.
Contributing to the community’s COVID-19 response
One of these groups is the Magoti Mothers’ group from the Nsanje District. This group says that they plan to manufacture up to 700 non-medical face masks. GOAL will procure 300 of the masks and distribute them to its staff operating in the community and to local health staff doing community outreach work. The group expects to sell the remainder to the community at an affordable price, around 400 Malawian Kwacha (MWK), or 50 cent per mask.
The masks will also become part of GOAL’s Covid-19 awareness campaign in Malawi, with training being provided on how to put on and wear a face mask properly and how to clean them so they are safe to reuse.
One of the Magoti Mothers’ group members, Joyce Kanyongolo, said she is delighted to be playing her part in the COVID-19 response.
‘’We are very thankful to GOAL for the skills we have learned and use to sew reusable pads. We are privileged to now be able to use these skills to sew reusable cloth face masks. As a Mothers’ group, we are happy to be playing a role in responding to the coronavirus crisis by making face masks for our community. Because people will be buying the masks, this will also help us financially”, she said.
The threat of COVID-19 in Africa
Dorica Chibota, Food and Nutrition Security Coordinator with GOAL in Malawi, said COVID-19 awareness messaging will be vital. Face masks, if used properly, can also play an important part in protecting the population, especially if worn by people with symptoms.
“The scale and speed of this infection is devastating, and many low-income countries are now scaling up their preparedness as we brace ourselves for further cases.’’
She added: ‘‘A large outbreak in Malawi will put enormous strain on the resources of health care staff. Globally, the demand for PPE is at unprecedented levels, so the availability of face masks for community use will be greatly needed.’’
“We are delighted that the Magoti Mothers’ group is able to help with the supply of face masks. This is something that some of our other groups may now look at too.”
GOAL currently supports eight mothers’ groups across two districts in Malawi which manufacture sanitary pads at affordable prices. It trains the members of these groups on sanitary pad design and sewing, and then helps them link to financial institutions.
GOAL has linked the groups manufacturing the masks with local government health officials in the region to ensure correct health specifications are met during the manufacturing process.
GOAL’s COVID-19 response in Africa
Over the last month, GOAL has reached over 240,000 vulnerable individuals with COVID-19 awareness messaging and support in Malawi and over 9 million people globally across its 13 countries of operation.
To date, Africa has witnessed over 27,000 active COVID-19 cases and has recorded 1,297 deaths. The number of cases rose by 51% last week. The World Health Organization (WHO) said Africa could become the next epicentre of the disease, while the UN also warned that it’s likely the pandemic will kill at least 300,000 people in Africa and push nearly 30 million into poverty.