At the end of their shifts sewing Levi’s jeans at a factory in Karachi, Pakistan, the young seamstresses gathered denim scraps from the floor. They used the fabric for sanitary napkins—a luxury they couldn’t afford, because they sent their paychecks home to their villages.

Inevitably, they developed infections, and factory managers noticed they were missing up to three days of work a month during their menstrual cycles. Health care charities in Karachi knew of the problem, but were...

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