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Northern medical students launch drive to supply menstrual pads to remote communities

Second year that NOSM students work to address issue of period poverty
280222_LGL_Menstrual Products NOSM

A couple of students from NOSM University (Northern Ontario School of Medicine) have launched a fundraising drive to help purchase menstrual products for women in a remote Northern First Nations community.

Ashley Perreault and Lucie Ménard are the organizers of the campaign, which is now in its second year. Perreault is a medical student at NOSM's Thunder Bay campus and Ménard is a med student at NOSM in Sudbury. They have set a goal to raise at least $10,000 through the GoFundMe platform

In their roles at NOSM, both students are local officers of reproductive and sexual health issues at both the school and in communities, served by the NOSM, said Perreault. She said she and Ménard are both passionate about the issue of "period poverty" and believe the campaign is a valid way to give back to the community.  

"So Kingfisher Lake First Nation, for example, is a community that NOSM students can attend for a placement in first year. So we chose that's how we ended up with the community and then we merged our passions to help, addressing these health inequities in an area that we're familiar with and passionate about, to kind of combine them and come up with this idea for the medical product drives." said Perreault.

Part of the concern in remote communities is that there is a supply problem and menstrual products are not always on the store shelf. The other problem is that the price of menstrual pads is just too prohibitive. Ménard said in some communities, the price has been three times more expensive than what the price is in a larger urban community.

Perreault said there is also the embarrassment that can occur for young women in school or out in the community if they cannot afford pads and are suddenly caught in the middle of their period. She said this can force young women to leave school or be stuck at home, which is just another of the many challenges faced by women in rural communities.

In the first year of the campaign, the students donated pads to the remote community of Fort Severn. The students said the campaign was a success and this year it was decided to step things up by selecting Kingfisher Lake

NOSM was also the first medical school in Canada that made social accountability one of its core values for everyday operations.  Ménard said NOSM looks at the needs and health concerns of pretty much every community across Northern Ontario. She said part of NOSM's role in the North is to measure health care needs in those communities and find ways to give back to the communities. 

She added that the campaign is not just something they decided on their own. Kingfisher Lake is one of several FN communities already in a health care partnership with NOSM, she said. Also, the decision to provide reusable menstrual pads was something that was decided on by the community, and not by the med students. Other products and ideas were discussed she said, but the community made the decision.  

"But ultimately, this was the choice of the community and we want to be respectful and mindful of that, regardless of whether we think there are other products that would be more beneficial or longer lasting; this is what they thought they needed. So that's how we came up with reusable pads," Perreault added.

The fundraising campaign will allow the organizers to purchase reusable menstrual pads from companies in Alberta and Ontario. Perreault said the companies involved have agreed to provide the pads at a discount. The companies will donate the time it takes to manufacture the pads and the campaign only has to pay for the materials involved. 

The funding campaign page said this includes the following companies: 

-Lady Crimson Cloth Emporium, 

-Cozy Clams, 

-Soft Taco Reusables

-Amie Pads and 

-While She Naps Creations.


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Len Gillis, local journalism initiative reporter

About the Author: Len Gillis, local journalism initiative reporter

Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at covering health care in northeastern Ontario and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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