Researching menstrual health in the Dominican Republic

Madeline Weinkauf

Right out of college, Madeline Weinkauf took an internship with MotherWise, an organization that supports women, children, and families during pregnancy and after a baby is born. When it came time to complete the applied practice experience (APEx) requirement for her Master of Public Health degree, Weinkauf wondered how she could do something similar. 

Through her mentor, Associate Professor Zobeida Bonilla, who specializes in maternal and child health, Weinkauf became involved in a research project with the Batey Relief Alliance (BRA), an NGO in the Dominican Republic that addresses socioeconomic and health conditions of women, children, and families.

“BRA was starting this menstrual health research and I really took the lead,” Weinkauf says.

Weinkauf participated in period poverty research. Period poverty refers to the many barriers women face when it comes to menstrual products, education, and sanitation, and is a critical public health issue now gaining attention. A 2021 BRA study revealed that 20 percent of girls in rural Dominican Republic missed 2-3 school days each month during menstruation due to lack of access to sanitary pads. Weinkauf gathered data for BRA by creating, distributing, and analyzing a survey to learn more about health, hygiene, and menstruation stigma in the country. 

As part of her APEx experience, Weinkauf created a data brief, with findings from the survey she created. 

“It kind of exploded from there,” Weinkauf says. “Procter & Gamble learned of the survey results and donated menstrual products and the results started getting attention in Dominican newspapers. Now they’re talking about this issue in the Dominican Congress, which is pretty awesome.”

Weinkauf reflects on her APEx experience and can’t say enough about the effect it had on her. “My applied practice was the best experience I had in the MPH program,” she says. “What started as a simple Google survey really had an impact.” 

And Weinkauf got to see firsthand how research on a public health issue can manifest positive change.