Women and girls in many Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries face various challenges, one of which is a feminine health and hygiene gap. Also known as ‘period poverty,’ many girls and women lack access to affordable hygienic menstrual products, which may lead to unhealthy practices. This is compounded by stigma and taboos on menstruation in more conservative communities, which stifles the spread of accurate information about menstruation and feminine hygiene. In certain cultures, menstruating women are seen as ‘unclean’, and the use of tampons is forbidden for girls and unmarried women on grounds of sexual impropriety.

A study by UNICEF found that 20% of girls in select MENA countries lack the necessary information about menstruation, and 30% of girls miss some or all of school during their period. Missing school for something as frequent as menstruation has a significant impact on a girl’s education, which can be detrimental to their economic situation later in life. The study also found that around 20% of girls experienced restrictions in playing sports during their period, while 10% felt embarrassed during this natural part of their lives, demonstrating how belief and cultural stigma can limit their individual and social development.

Because open discussion of feminine health and hygiene matters is suppressed, many myths and non-scientific beliefs are passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, perpetuating misinformation. This lack of knowledge or proliferation of incorrect knowledge can have a drastic effect on women’s health.

Poor feminine hygiene is associated with several disorders, including bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and endometriosis, which impact women’s quality of life and their ability to work, attend school, and care for themselves and their families. These disorders inflict billions of dollars of direct and indirect costs worldwide. Bacterial vaginosis (BV), which affects up to 25% of women in MENA, is an imbalance in the microbiome of the vagina, where beneficial bacteria are outnumbered by harmful bacteria that have formed a biofilm, making them harder to eradicate. This may cause irritation and a foul-smelling discharge and could lead to pregnancy complications.

While BV is often treated with antibiotic gels, creams, or pills, these can upset the natural microbial ecosystem of the body, killing both harmful and beneficial bacteria and increasing the chance of reinfection. Meanwhile, non-medicine or folk remedies such as garlic, boric acid, and probiotics have limited data showing that they can effectively treat BV and, in some cases, worsen it.

Primal Haven, a biotechnology company that seeks to improve women’s health via targeted, safe, and intelligent microbiome-based molecular solutions, says that microbiome-based treatments show promise in reducing the prevalence of bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and other women’s health conditions.

The proprietary Selective Microbial Metabolism Regulation Technology (SMMRT®) treatment, developed by Primal Heaven’s parent company Primal Therapies, uniquely employs a combination of ingredients to target destructive bacteria and their harmful activities – while stimulating the growth of beneficial microbes. Taken orally, it blocks sugar, which disrupts the harmful bacteria’s metabolisms while stimulating the growth of “good” microbiomes to target “bad” microbiomes naturally.

“We leverage our SMMRT and other related technologies to develop targeted, safe, and intelligent microbiome solutions for common women's health concerns like bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and UTIs. This helps relieve unwanted symptoms, prevent health risks, and restore girls’ and women’s confidence,” says Dr. Emily Stein, Chief Scientist and Chairperson of Primal Haven. “And, because it is taken orally, it is easy to distribute and does not violate any cultural taboos. However, we acknowledge that this treatment is just one solution that is part of a multifaceted approach to address the feminine health and hygiene gap. Governments, nonprofit organizations, and businesses need to work together to provide scientific and culturally sensitive knowledge to girls and women across the MENA region, as well as vital health services, which is part of their fundamental human rights.”
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