Home » General » Disposable Nappies – Blessing or Curse?

For 31-year-old Mirirai, a working mother of three who was recently blessed with a baby girl, 24 hours is just too short for her day.

She has to juggle work, school and motherhood. She wakes up at 5am to prepare for her two sons who are in primary school clean the house, make sure the baby is bathed and fed before she can prepare herself for work.

After work, she comes home and sees to it that the baby’s laundry is done.

“I have a maid who looks after the baby when I am at work but I am a traditional African woman. I want to be involved as much as I can in the baby’s life so I bathe and feed her as well as make sure that her clothes are washed.

“I also have two sons who go to school so I prepare their breakfast and make sure they are presentable before they leave for school,” says Mirirai.

Mirirai says she is grateful that technology has taken away much of her burden because of the introduction of disposable nappies, popularly known as diapers or pampers. She does not have to wash nappies on a daily basis.

“I am grateful for pampers. They are very convenient. I do not have to spend too much time on the baby’s clothes because I do not have the old napkins to worry about. This gives me time to attend to my other chores. The maid can just use the diapers and throw them away.”

Twenty-one-year-old Addrienne Sikwila is also a working mother.

Sikwila, who lives in Gweru’s Mkoba 1, says she finds diapers very convenient. She explains that the City of Gweru has been facing water problems for a long time now.

“Old napkins require a lot of water. For a long time now, Gweru has been forced to go through water rationing. City Fathers tell us that it is because the pumping capacity has been affected by the old equipment at Gwenhoro Dam.

“Last year we were told that the water levels were critically low. Sometimes we go for days without running water. In such a situation, the disposable diaper is a most welcome convenience,” she says.

In the high-density areas, the sale of diapers has become big business.

Sixty-three-year-old Gogo Mukuze is a widow who lives alone and subsists on the sale of diapers that are imported from Botswana where her daughter has relocated. She explains that on a good day she makes about US$9.

Though she lives on the sale of these diapers, she expresses reservations on their safety on the little babies.

“I do not like these English (sic) things. I think they are a health hazard,” says Mukuze. “I went to one meeting where I heard that they are too warm, especially for the boy-child. I heard that there is a risk that they could cause infertility for the children in later years but I have no choice but to sell them. They are my source of livelihood. These young mothers are too lazy they do not want to wash napkins like we did in our days,” she said.

Convenience vs environment

Though most women find diapers convenient, some people are concerned that they have become a ready source of environmental pollution.

Florence Guzha, who works for the Women’s Coalition in Gweru, is of the view that though diapers are convenient, that there is need for the Ministry of Health and Child Care to conscientise women on the need for proper disposal of used diapers.

Guzha believes that used diapers can be used for ritual purposes.

“We are Africans and our culture is such that human waste – such as menstrual blood – should not be left in the open. It is possible that these things can be used for ‘black magic’.

“Hygienically, the way we dispose of these diapers has an impact on the whole community. Imagine a child suffering from some diarrhoeal disease like dysentery.

“This is a highly contagious disease and waste has to be disposed of properly so that the disease does not spread. Nowadays, you find used diapers at every street corner and they have become toys for our dogs,” Guzha said.

Disposable nappies are not biodegradable. This has raised fears of how improper disposal impacts on the environment.

Heroic Mutanga, an environmental health officer with Gweru City Council’s Department of City Health, was quick to admit that it was the mandate of the City Council to see to the proper disposal of waste in the city.

“Waste management is basically the mandate of the City Council. What we have done is we have gone around the city’s high-density areas educating the public on the importance of proper disposal of these diapers,” she said.

She highlighted that there was need to put the diapers in a black bag which can be tied and kept away from pets and be handed over to refuse collectors on refuse collection days.

Mothers, however, complain that the black bags come at a cost and they cannot afford to buy them on a weekly basis and they complain that refuse collection is not done on a regular basis.

Mutanga said it was easier for the council to dispose of waste as they had personnel who had undergone training in waste management.

Mutanga explained that the council had taken measures to ensure that information on waste disposal reached new mothers by conducting awareness campaigns at pre-natal and post-natal clinics and by leaving flyers at public places.

Mutanga urged the public to have refuse bins at their homes, further highlighting the importance of waste separation.

“There is need for waste separation at source. Some of this waste which is biodegradable can be used as composite for reuse in the gardens. Even when the refuse is not collected it is difficult to fill up a 60-litre bin in two weeks when you are separating your waste.”

Mutanga said though there had been efforts to educate the public on proper disposal of waste, it should be noted that health education is a process which takes time to bear fruit.

She said the public had a tendency of dumping waste at illegal dump-sites at night, which made it difficult for the council to bring to book those who dump waste illegally.

“There are fines for illegal dumping but it is very difficult to bring the culprits to book because dumping is usually done at night when most of our workers are sleeping.”

Mutanga stressed the importance of the media in highlighting issues that affect the environment and how best waste can be managed.

She urged development workers to provide platforms where the Department of City Health could interact with women in the city and raise awareness on the need for proper disposal, not only of disposable nappies but of waste in general.

Source : The Herald