Last Year's Innovations Pitch Grand Prize Winner Says Competition was a 'Turning Point' for Her

Posted 13 June 2022

The 2021 Innovations Pitch Competition Grand Prize Winner was Farhana Sultana of icddr,b in Dhaka, Bangladesh, who proposed developing a machine to produce jute cellulose-based sanitary pads for sustainable menstrual health.  

Ms. Sultana said since the November competition, she and her collaborator Dr. Mubarak Ahmed Khan have been looking at options for more scale-up and at the sustainability issues of a 100% biodegradable jute cellulose-based disposable pad production with local manufacturers. They also have started the process for a joint patent application, a time-consuming procedure, she said.

Farhana Sultana (right)
and collaborator
Dr. Mubarek Ahmed Khan

What developments have taken place since you pitched your project at the Innovations Pitch Competition in November?
We have moved forward in terms of getting attention from the local manufacturers, Government of Bangladesh, news media and NGOs that are very enthusiastic about the innovation. There are local manufacturers interested to collaborate and scale-out the innovation. Our collaborator and the inventor of jute poly bags, Dr. Mubarak Ahmed Khan, plans to collaborate with one of country’s leading manufacturers, Square Pharmaceuticals, to identify pathways to develop the machine-produced jute cellulose-based sanitary pads that we are supportive about. However, more funds are required to conduct a randomized controlled trial to see the impact on the environment and women’s health and well-being later this year.

What are your greatest priorities ahead?
We aim to conduct an acceptability trial of the machine-produced jute cellulose-based sanitary pads among the women and girls in Bangladesh to explore comfort and effectiveness, acceptability, feasibility and willingness to pay; as well as the impact on health and well-being and the environment by conducting a microbial and fungal assessment of menstrual blood to compare with the baseline results.

How has this project altered your original career plans? Five years ago, did you imagine that you would be producing a jute cellulose-based sanitary pad?
It altered hugely. I was working on menstrual health and hygiene and always wanted to provide the women and girls in Bangladesh with complete solutions to support their menstrual health and hygiene at an affordable price. However, I did not think that we would be able to make biodegradable pads that have the potential to serve as an alternative solution for the menstruating women and girls in Bangladesh and worldwide that not require water and soap for maintenance and does not leave conspicuous waste.

The ASTMH Innovations Pitch was a turning point for myself and the jute cellulose-based sanitary pads. After winning the grand prize from the ASTMH Innovations Pitch Competition, the people in Bangladesh and elsewhere recognize and highly appreciate the proposed idea and the innovativeness of the pad.

How did you learn about the Innovations Pitch Competition?
I present abstracts each year at ASTMH Annual Meeting, and last year I received an email from the Society that mentioned the Innovations Pitch Competition. I had a detailed look and found the application format simple. We had manually developed the pads using sewing machines and we were looking for funds to develop a customized machine to manufacture >1000 pads per day, conduct the industrial trial for mass production, develop a business plan and explore options for further scale-up and waste management. The ASTMH Innovations Pitch was the prestigious platform that aligned with our goals.