Counting up the cost of sanitary items video

Florence Kerr/ Fairfax NZ

Stuff.co.nz's Florence Kerr asks the public 'What do you know about menstruation.'

An ancient Roman philosopher once described periods as an incurable poison that would turn fertile land barren and make wine sour. 

The respected chronicler Pliny the Elder clearly believed his own musings - even the bit about a menstruating woman making all the knives in the house blunt.

However, women of ancient Rome were pioneers of the sanitary product using cotton and wool. 

Fast forward thousands of years and throw in more knowledge on the subject and you're left with one annoying week of the month.

READ MORE: Pharmac rejects funding for sanitary items

Auckland gynaecologist Dr Sylvia Rosevear says with time, attitudes have changed and people are now better equipped on how the monthly visit works and some avoid it with contraception. 

Periods made headlines on Wednesday when Pharmac declined an application to have sanitary products subsidised - so what are the true costs? 

Rosevear said on average women have 480 periods, use 12,000 tampons or pads and spill 14 litres of blood during a woman's life. 

A packet of tampons cost $5.50, so take that and multiply it over 480 periods and women are out of pocket $2640. 

"It is an expense that women have that men don't have, I suppose," Rosevear said. 

"And they are expensive, but do you think nappies should be subsidised?" 

Rebecca Culver, co-founder of Go With the Flow, which helps women in poverty get sanitary products, certainly does.

Culver, who also founded the Just Zilch charity, said one of her volunteers had heavy bleeding due to a medical condition, which kept her at home for about two days a month.

"For her, it's really, really debilitating."

Culver said  such people  needed sanitary items to be funded or subsidised to make them more accessible.

Pharmac has rejected an application to fund sanitary products - but the costs are adding up for women.
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Pharmac has rejected an application to fund sanitary products - but the costs are adding up for women.

Pharmac said in a statement this week that  "sanitary products are not medicines or medical devices".

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Culver said she understood Pharmac's position but believed there were women  with medical problems who deserved financial assistance.

For women who had medical conditions such as endometriosis, which can cause heavy bleeding, buying tampons and sanitary pads could be  expensive, she said.

Despite the application being rejected, Culver was still hopeful progress would be made.

An online petition was started in February for tampons and sanitary pads to be funded to make them more accessible to people in need.

A separate petition to remove  GST on sanitary items ran on change.org last year and received more than 3000 signatures.

Six Hamilton men spoken to by Stuff were vocal in their support for subsidising sanitary products. 

"It's a basic health right isn't it? Particularly with this time of huge wealth inequality you're having, particularly young women in more deprived areas, who are being prevented from living a normal life through a lack of health supplies. So I think it's a very important issue and I do support that," Chris Carter said. 

Graeme Kitto, 71, said the affordability of sanitary products is a "critical issue".

"It's obviously becoming a critical issue for a number of women and their families in terms of being able to afford the cost of items," Kitto said. 

"Needing to take such action as re-using pads and things... that's a health issue, obviously a social issue."

However, Hamilton teacher Lorraine Semple thought the products shouldn't be subsidised.

"No, I think it's just a natural bodily function that we just have to take care of."

Pharmac's director of operations Sarah Fitt did confirm if applications were made for specific menstrual conditions, "where there is evidence of specific health needs", these could be considered in future.

Menstruation is considered a normal bodily function, the agency said.

Pharmac can only fund medicines and medical devices or products which provide "therapeutic benefits relating to a health need".

What is evident is that throughout the ages, including Pliny's time, sanitary products were a necessity.

Period.

 - Stuff

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