Makapads: Appropriate Technologies for Africa

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear a lecture from Moses Musaazi at the Science Environments in Africa Conference here at the University of Michigan. Dr. Musaazi is a professor of electrical engineering at Makerere University in Kamplala, Uganda. Recognizing the need for the development of technologies appropriate for the poor in Africa, he has made two important contributions to the lives of people in Uganda, and surely to all of Sub-Saharan Africa. He argues that technological development aimed at users in Africa must recognize the special conditions that exist there which will inhibit the spread of technologies that may be applicable to the developed world. Technologies must be take into account the challenging environment of Sub-Saharan Africa (dust, rats and heavy rain), widespread illiteracy and difficult lifestyles and, most importantly, new technologies must be cheap to be able to reach the multitudes of impoverished persons throughout the sub-continent.

Dr. Musaazi has introduced two technologies which have proven successful thus far. The first is an interlocking brick (Interlocking Stabilized Soil Bricks: ISSB) which does not require that the bricks be fired. Environmental degradation due to the large amount of wood required to fire bricks is wide spread throughout SSA. Dr. Musaazi’s bricks can be made out of any soil with a small machine that can be used on-site.

In addition, the bricks air-dry and can be used a mere four hours after being made so that construction can commence immediately. He indicates that a house of typical size for that of a family in SSA can be built and livable in less than two weeks, and does not require the cutting of a single tree.

Not only is the brick good for building households, but it is also good for building water storage containers. Water can be collected off the roof of the household and stored, thereby relieving households members of the burden of having to walk several kilometers to fetch water.

In the developed world, we take the wide spread availability of water completely for granted. I believe that many people on this end of the globe cannot even imagine the immense benefits of having water available at all times in a household. Women are more often that not tasked with obtaining water, which has serious implications for the educational achievement of both adults and children and has serious effects of society as a whole. Educated women are the key to good health in populations and an indicator of the level of progress a society makes in respecting human rights and welfare.

In SSA, girls have the added problem of running the risk of being raped on the way to fetch water. Having a water source near the household minimizes this risk and protects her physical and psychological health and well-being.

The second technology he presented was the Makapad, a sanitary pad for women. The lack of sanitary pads is a serious problem for women in SSA, especially for girls. Girls cannot go to school during their menstrual period, interrupting their studies on a monthly basis in addition to creating a sense of isolation and marginalization during menstruation.

The Makapad is made from papyrus, which grows wild all over Uganda and the Sudan. Papyrus is more absorbent than cotton and requires little processing to make it usable for sanitary pads. 10% of the Makapad comes from recycled office paper waste but the most important aspect of the Makapad is that it can be made completely by hand.

Dr. Musaazi has established a factory near Kampala and employs women from a nearby refugee camp. While one could argue that mechanization would create make production more efficient and cheap, Dr. Musaazi argues that, in spite of inefficiency, employing a large number of people is important to contributing to the living situation of refugee women in Uganda.

Note: As usual, graphics are blatantly lifted from other websites. Please visit the links above to help spread the word.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

6 responses to “Makapads: Appropriate Technologies for Africa”

  1. Annet Nalukwago Ojede says :

    Hello Dr. Musaazi my name is Annet Nalukwago Ojede currently living in the US with my husband & 2 kids, my husband is Andrew Ojede, a Prof. in economic at California State University & I am holding a Master’s in Public policy. Am really grateful to your efforts towards helping young girls in our country. I found out about your work from the article that appeared in new vision, August 11 2010.

    However, I wanted to suggest to you that beside pads you can also make some research on tampons using the papyrus. This implies that you will not so much papyrus, & used papers. It will even save raw materials since 1 papyrus could make close to 30 tampons (just by cutting the papyrus into even sizes). Tie a thread at the end of tampon & wrap it around with relatively hard paper cover that would be used to insert inside the girls/woman privates. On average a woman may use 8-10 tampons each cycle. Therefore, 1 pack may be used for 3-4months saving the girls money and the parents and it is less labor intensive since you will just have to dry the papyrus and cut into same sizes, tie a thread, wrap in hard paper applicator, ready to pack & ready for use.

    Notes: tampons are really effective given the fact each cycle a women looses only 2 teaspoons of blood, tampons can do that without even spilling on the under wear. They are really small, very comfortable & easy to insert. They do not make any one lose their virginity or hurt or cause pain in any way.
    Most tampons use plastic applicators for insertion but some other use biodegradable paper applicators that are environmental friendly, and easily accessible because they are made out of paper.
    You could also buy a box of tampons with paper applicators or biodegradable applicators, look at them, you will find out that this product is ease to produce good, portable and good.

    But your research is really brilliant & for a good cause.

    For more information you can contact me through my face book account or e-mail.
    Thank you,

    Annet N. Ojede

  2. Marie MacKay says :

    I live in Western Kenya and wonder where I can purchase the pad

  3. mary albrecht says :

    I will be retruning to Uganda on Dec 2nd—2011. After many trips to africa where I work with farmers to improve production etc. I have found what is needed in East Africa is a machine which can be made in country from scraps, to turn the soil. Here it is a roto-tiller. If it could be produced there for a low price it could do alot to change production methods of small holder farmers and increase production, If you can figure out how to produce a machine like that you will have helped to increase food security in East Africa.

  4. Ashwin says :

    I live in South Africa and would like to buy a machine to make the interlocking bricks referred to in the article.

  5. claudia says :

    Hi Annet Nalukwago, the idea of a tampon is very good but you must know that probably girls won’t use it because their parents won’t let them use a tampon. I know tampons do not make any one lose their virginity or hurt or cause pain in any way but you should be realistic about the way people think. I’m telling you this because i live in peru, a country in southamerica. I know the situation is worst in africa than in southamerica so i’m telling you that for example here poor girls and specially their mothers are very closed mind. No way they would use a tampon. Even in high society in my country they don’t use tampons until they are over 20 years. So i’m sure that in Uganda they are even more close-mind, specially because of their religion.

  6. Katy says :

    I worked on some of the market research of the MakaPads project back in 2008. I am so very excited to see the end product used and sold today. Great project.

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