It’s happened untold times to female troops over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not just uncomfortable — it’s a health hazard. Suppressing urination, limiting fluids to avoid having to go, and primitive bathroom facilities have all contributed to a high rate of urinary tract infections suffered by deployed women.
Nearly half of 850 women surveyed in 2000, said they had symptoms of UTI or vaginitis while deployed. Many of them declined to seek medical treatment, risking complications like kidney disease and pelvic infections. Although troubling, the results are not surprising, at least among military experts in women’s health. Prevalent genitourinary problems among deployed women and their difficulties in getting treatment has been documented in a report before.
The Women’s Health Task Force, formed last year, has recommended changes and initiatives based on the report. Some of those recommendations are about to be implemented. Devices that allow women to urinate discreetly will be made widely available before or while they’re deployed. Self-diagnosis kits to let women test themselves for urinary and vaginal infections are planned by next year. The kits are designed to address the fact that significant numbers of women won’t seek medical attention for genitourinary issues while deployed. Female troops lack confidence in their providers, who are usually male medics. They have doubts about confidentiality feel awkward seeing someone they know, prefer a female provider and say clinics in the field lack privacy. The kits should be available in downrange pharmacies by the end of 2013.
The kits, now in development, will include a thermometer, a collection cup and a decision making algorithm to determine the type of problem.
A popular brand, the Freshette, is sold by Amazon and REI for about $25, mostly to campers and hikers. It’s a lightweight, palm-sized, reusable device, that consists of a cup and flexible tube. It allows women to urinate standing up, without disrobing and to avoid hazards like unsanitary restrooms, uneven terrain, poison oak and ivy and rough weather. Military women familiar with the Freshette swear by it. The devices are already in the Army supply system. Some savvy commanders have ordered the devices for all their female soldiers.
The effort to address female soldiers’ health needs comes after about 275,000 women have deployed over the last decade, and as new occupational specialties and positions open to women and put more of them on the front lines. It comes as the Army is starting to give women better fitting body armor and combat uniforms as women rise through the chain of command.
Happy belated birthday to the U.S. Navy, Oct. 13, 1775.
Speak to you again next week.
Reach Jim Vines at firstname.lastname@example.org.