Background: Differing approaches to menstrual hygiene management (MHM) have been associated with a wide range of health and psycho-social outcomes in lower income settings. This paper systematically collates, summarizes and critically appraises the available evidence. Methods: Following the PRISMA guidelines a structured search strategy was used to identify articles investigating the effects of MHM on health and psycho-social outcomes. The search was conducted in May 2012 and had no date limit. Data was extracted and quality of methodology was independently assessed by two researchers. Where no measure of effect was provided, but sufficient data were available to calculate one, this was undertaken. Meta-analysis was conducted where sufficient data were available. Results: 14 articles were identified which looked at health outcomes, primarily reproductive tract infections (RTI). 11 articles were identified investigating associations between MHM, social restrictions and school attendance. MHM was found to be associated with RTI in 7 papers. Methodologies however varied greatly and overall quality was low. Meta-analysis of a subset of studies found no association between confirmed bacterial vaginosis and MHM (OR: 1.07, 95% CI: 0.52–2.24). No other substantial associations with health outcomes were found. Although there was good evidence that educational interventions can improve MHM practices and reduce social restrictions there was no quantitative evidence that improvements in management methods reduce school absenteeism.
The management of menstruation presents significant challenges for women in lower income settings; the effect of poor MHM however remains unclear. It is plausible that MHM can affect the reproductive tract but the specific infections, the strength of effect, and the route of transmission, remain unclear. There is a gap in the evidence for high quality randomised intervention studies which combine hardware and software interventions, in particular for better understanding the nuanced effect improving MHM may have on girls’ attendance at school.