Dr Laura Rossouw

African Fellow
Dr Laura Rossouw

Dr Laura Rossouw - orcid.org/0000-0001-7697-9567

African Fellow, December 2021 - August 2022

Home Institution: University of the Witwatersrand

Dr Laura Rossouw is a  senior lecturer at the School of Economics and Finance at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), where her teachings focus on the Economic evaluations of Health Interventions. She is also a health economist with experience in conducting economic evaluations of health interventions and health technologies. Her research focuses on health behaviours and choices, specifically those related to maternal, sexual, and reproductive health, and non-communicable diseases. Her PhD research focused on developing and implementing research projects to promote maternal and infant health in South Africa, aimed at informing policy. More recently, her research has shifted to exploring the economic questions around Menstrual Hygiene Management and Health, often under-researched by health economists. In this body of work, she has applied rigorous econometric methodologies to address questions around affordability, inequality and the effectiveness of policy interventions to address period poverty.

Prior to lecturing, Laura spent her career at University-based research institutes aimed at bridging the gap between rigorous academic research and policy. This includes Research on Socio-Economic Policy (ReSEP) based at the Economics Department of Stellenbosch University (SU). The group focuses on issues of poverty, income distribution, social mobility, economic development and social policy. After that, she joined Research on the Economics of Excisable Products (REEP) at the University of Cape Town, where she was also the programme manager of the WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub on tobacco taxation.

Project title: The Economics of Menstrual Hygiene Management: The impact of the Sanitary Dignity Programme on access to menstrual hygiene products in South Africa

Improving the menstrual health of women and girls is increasingly gaining policy importance in a bid to promote dignity, gender equality and reproductive health. Menstrual health management (MHM) consists of having access to clean, absorbent materials such as sanitary pads, but also extends into having private and safe spaces for using these products and materials. The omnipresent stigmatization of menstruation and entrenched social norms in many parts of the world limits adequate support for menstruating women and girls and results.

Alongside the potential evidence linking poor MHM to health, psychosocial and economic impacts, the rationale for further investigation of MHM is the focus on women and girls’ dignity and what this would entail for social justice. The increased focus on MHM has spurred a global movement of non-governmental organisations, advocacy groups and researchers to push for the implementation of various fiscal policies to address inadequate MHM. In South Africa specifically, years of pressure from interest groups resulted in the implementation of the Sanitary Dignity Programme (SDP) in 2017 – a programme involving the free distribution of sanitary pads across low quintile schools – and the removal of value-added tax from sanitary pads in 2019. However, implementation of the SDP programme has been hindered by governance issues, with roll-out haphazard or non-existent in several of South Africa’s more rural provinces.

While there has been a surge in the roll-out of MHM policies, such as free distribution or tax reductions as was the case in South Africa, there is a clear dearth in measuring the effectiveness of these policies, thereby threatening their sustainability. The proposed research seeks to assess the affordability and differential access to MH products for school-aged girls, and to assess the impact of the Sanitary Dignity Programme on the quality, preference and choice of MH products being used by school-aged girls. The focus will be on identifying and highlighting potential, unintended inequalities created by the Programme. Different from a supply-side analysis, the research will focus on the experience of girls and their caretakers.