PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (April 3, 2013) -- Research is underway to determine how one small device is specifically benefiting the health of military women serving in Afghanistan, and for future deployed environments.
This is the third in a series of studies conducted by Lt. Col. Nancy Steele, Ph.D., a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner, focusing on a simple palm-size plastic device with a potentially large impact.
"The Female Urinary Diversion Device is a self-care measure that may assist military women to acquire and maintain optimum health and functioning as viable members of a fit and ready force," said Steele.
Austere conditions, such as conducting combat operations in a deployed environment, can present females with urinary challenges that are difficult, time consuming with full combat gear, and dangerous, she said.
The most common health risk for deployed military women is urinary tract infection, or UTI, according to Steele and other military researchers. UTI is often a result of reduced hydration and voluntarily holding urine for a prolonged time, counter measures some women have taken in order avoid exposure to potential dangers or difficult situations.
But Female Urinary Diversion Devices, known as FUDDs, are changing that habit by allowing for both "privacy and protection," said Capt. Kelly Hasselman, the female engagement team, or FET, commander for 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Steele, along with Maj. Romico Caughman, brigade nurse for 1st Bde., 1st Armored Div., are working together to implement an evidence based project regarding the feasibility of the device. So far, Caughman's push to get the devices into the inventory for her female Soldiers seems to be welcome.
"This research and the support that it has gained could not come at a better time," said Caughman, referring to the expanding female roles she has witnessed in the military.
"I have been in the Army 18 years and I wish I had this 18 years ago," said Sgt. 1st Class Sevrine Banks, the FET company first sergeant.
The Soldiers of the FET presented some suggestions for improving the device, including a mesh carrying case, and offering options on how other gear might be redesigned to better accommodate for its use. The addition of plate carriers has helped, said one Soldier, however, the Army's protective under and outer garments being used adds a level of difficulty that might be improved with the addition of Velcro panels specific for women.
The research and the device has the support of the Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, who, in a 2012 Soldier's Magazine article, explained that increasing access to the female urinary device should help reduce the risk of infection, especially among women at small, remote bases or on long convoys.
"The FUDD was first introduced to a small group of military women in 2009 in a research study regarding a health intervention to promote military female's hygiene in the deployed environment," said Steele, who helped lead that one and its two subsequent studies. The 2009 study looked at a sample of women deployed with 25th Infantry Division. The results prompted further research, which Steele continues in Afghanistan.
"The goal is to provide scientific support for the FUDD as a self-care measure with the potential to reduce the number of female urinary symptoms and UTIs," she said. The control group and the FUDD intervention groups are being studied in terms of urinary symptoms and infection reports.
Out in the field, the device is gaining some respect from its users.
"This should be a part of initial issue," said Banks. Its durability means that with proper care the device can last for several years.