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Health Implications Of Secondhand Underwear For Women

Despite the patronage that secondhand clothes, popularly called ‘bend-down boutique’ or tokunbo clothes especially underwear, have enjoyed in Nigeria, the used clothes pose a great health risk to users. At almost every market in the country, there is a section that houses used clothing just for women.

This is aside from skirts and blouses or pants. In this section, underclothes for women are sold from brassieres to panties and girdles or waist trainers to vests, chemises, or singlets. These clothes are cheap and most affordable for those who cannot afford those hung in shiny new nylons and some believe they are of better quality and would last longer.

Chioma, an undergraduate in Abuja says that she observes basic cleaning processes before wearing such clothes like soaking them in water for some days and making sure to never wear them in the market to see if they fit. When New National Star asked Chioma if she felt comfortable with bend-down boutique undergarments, she answered in the affirmative but said she had not bought anything in that category for a while because of the COVID-19 virus.

“My mother always made sure we don’t wear them in the market until we have washed them ourselves and this COVID thing has made me stay away,” she said. But this is not so common. At the markets, ladies gather round the clothes, searching frantically for those that are in good shape and presentable and when they find them they try them on to see if they fit, they hold them out to others to confirm that they made good choices. In the process of doing that, they inhale dust and the bacteria and fungi present in the clothes could latch onto their skins and clothing which they wore from home. To them, it is enough that they are wearing some clothes, the organisms, if they are aware of their existence, would not be able to get to them, they think.

But Doctor George Ogbu, a gynaecologist who consults at Kelina Hospital, Abuja explained that one can never be too careful with used clothes whether undergarments or outer clothing. When asked if these sets of clothing pose any threat to women’s health, he said, “One cannot be able to categorically say but it does.

Why I say that is because it depends on the processing. These clothes are gathered from different sources and for some people, they will just gather them, bundle them into sacks, and export them. Other people will take them through processing. Even at this level, there are different types of processing. Some people may just wash them, with detergent then package them and transport, others may wash them with detergent, pass them through the drycleaning process, some may go to autoclave them.” The autoclave machine was invented in 1879. It is a machine used to carry out a variety of functions including advanced sterilization.

“Autoclave helps to kill even the microspores that may be available on the clothes, apart from bacteria, there are fungal infections, there are some that are flying in the air which are fungal organisms, in their early forms, spores. And some, one may not be able to destroy them with the minimal everyday heat that we use to boil our clothes.

You need to go through the extra mile of heating processes to be able to destroy some of those ones, which can be done during the autoclaving,” he explained. “The clothes that go through autoclaving before they are exported to this part of the world, one may say that they may be 98 to 99 percent free of all those germs and organisms.” Dr. Ogbu explained that problems with the used clothing imported into Nigeria include the lack of information on the processes employed in cleaning them and the price difference between those ones in which the autoclave machine was used in cleaning and those which just had the usual detergent method. “Unfortunately for us, we are not told which one went through that process and which one did not go through the process. One thing I want to say is that going through those processes may be expensive if you want to autoclave all the clothes that you send here, the final cost of those clothes may be higher.

For instance, if you see a bale that was just washed and sent down, going for 5,000 naira, the one that went through autoclaving may be going for ten or fifteen thousand naira. And if they are selling the latter for fifteen thousand naira, you know that per piece it will cost more,” he said. The used clothes business which has always been huge has now got a new swing to it. Online stores are boldly set up where buyers view a chic selection of clothes that would make boutique shoppers jealous. The underwear business online is not nearly as successful though. Ogbu said that one can never be sure of the source of the disease or infection but clothes are likely culprits in spreading it.

“The issue is that, if somebody has a gonococcal infection that causes gonorrhoea, if those organisms are found in the pants and somebody wears those pants and gets the infection it is difficult to be able to say it is because I wore the pants since some of these organisms are sexually transmitted,” he told this newspaper.

“And that is why there are some girls that come here, they now tell me, ‘Doctor I came here the other time, you prescribed drugs for me, and I used the drugs I am still having itching and all that and all that.’ Then your next question will be that those clothes you used to wear have you hot bathed them, sunbathed them and ironed them? Heat can kill some of those organisms.” He painted a picture of a lady who bought new underwear as well as used ones that had organisms on them while using them all interchangeably and also had sexual intercourse with her boyfriend in the same period and contracted gonorrhoea.

According to him, the lady will not be able to say for sure the source of her illness and will most likely blame it on the intercourse she had. Infections do not necessarily have to be passed during sex, they could be gotten from toilets and poorly cleaned bedding. Some ladies who do not maintain regular hygiene of their bedding and usually sleep without pants are at risk. He also mentioned that since some of those used clothes are shipped in humid conditions, organisms can survive a long time on them and heat is needed to get rid of them.

According to him, negligence of proper hygiene processes for used clothing could cause repetitive illness for a patient. “Fungal infections thrive the most. Children are taken to ‘benddown-select’ markets without adequate protection. Some get infections like tinea captitis (ringworm) which will be difficult to treat because of improper hygiene of used clothes, “ he said. Bottom line, he advised, “Wash with hot water, iron them, take your time, and iron them.

Undies, clothes, everything that has to do with secondhand, even shoes, wash them, put them under the sun for days. Very important.” One of the biggest subsectors in Nigeria is secondhand clothing, it provides employment for a large number of people. It comes mostly from the Western part of the world but brought in through the bordering countries of Togo and Cotonou. It has ready-made markets like Aswani in Lagos State gain immense popularity for what a customer termed ‘first grade used clothes’. But in a world where standards are easily reduced without consequences, it is important that people, especially women, took the hygiene of used clothes seriously and took necessary precautions.

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