14ymedio, Havana, 1 June 2023 — All year, Cuban women have been complaining that they have not been able find sanitary pads in the country’s stores. The government finally issued an official explanation on Thursday: The Mathisa factory in Sancti Spiritus, the country’s sole supplier, had to halt production in January due to a lack of raw materials and did not have the money to buy more.
On Thursday the company’s director, Angel Pozo Gonzalez, told the provincial newspaper Escambray that further production now hinges on a shipment of polyethylene, which is not expected to arrive until July, and warned that the product will remain in short supply at the nation’s pharmacies.
The collapse of the Cuban economy has weighed heavily on operations at Mathisa, which in 2021 was described in the provincial press as a brand new plant with excess inventory due to distribution problems. Only two years later, production ground to a halt because the factory ran out of raw materials, specifically polyethylene, which is used to make the plastic that covers the pad.
Mathisa relies exclusively on raw material from abroad and Pozo Gonzalez admitted that financial “limitations” had made importing it difficult. He said officials have since approved additional purchases and that the company was expecting suppliers in Mexico and Finland to begin shipments next month.
The director admitted that shipments of raw material would be staggered but claimed that the factory is ready to resume production immediately, operating as many as three shifts a day to reach this year’s production target of more than 4.5 million packages.
Before it shut down, the plant was operating at peak capacity. During the few days of January, when it was still up and running, it produced 560,000 packages, very close to its first-quarter target. “We used up 100% of the raw material we had in our warehouses because the product was in short supply and we were trying to speed up the delivery cycle,” explained Pozo Gonzalez. He said that entire production run had already been shipped out and was no longer available for purchase.
In addition to Sancti Spiritus, Mathisa supplies the provinces of Matanzas, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Ciego de Avila and Camaguey with its six varieties of Mariposa brand products. They are typically sold in pharmacies or online through the Caribe and Cimex chain of stores. Pozo Gonzalez warns, however, that production will be much lower than the ten to fourteen million packages it produced in previous years.
Mathisa pads do not enjoy a good reputation. Customers complain that the product’s outer layer feels rough to the touch and tends to move around, and that the poor quality of the adhesive keeps them from staying in place. The pads are also not as absorbent as those of other brands so consumers have to use more of them.
During the shutdown, the company sidelined forty workers, transferred fifty and kept a maintenance staff of twenty. Pozo Gonzalez says the situation is no different from that of Mathisa’s two other plants, one in Granma province and the other in Havana.
This is not the first time that Mathisa, which ships out more than forty-two million pads a year, has had to halt operations due to a shortage of raw materials. In 2018 the state-owned company reported that eight of the ten materials it needed to produce the pads were imported from Spain, Italy and China. Only the packaging is produced domestically.
The company’s problems are only growing. It is increasingly difficult to find its products in rationed pharmacies, where a month’s supply of pads sells for only 1.20 pesos. Meanwhile, prices on the black market range from 200 to 250 pesos.
What the government-run press has not discussed at any time is Thai Binh, a Vietnamese company that has been operating in the Mariel Special Development Zone since 2019. Its sanitary pads can be purchased for dollars or online through websites where Cuban emigres can buy items for their family members on the island.
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