The month of April is commemorated as Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month according to PreventBlindness.org, the oldest non-profit eye organization in the US. The goal is two-fold; to educate the public on women’s increased risk of eye health issues and encourage prophylactic steps to prevent vision loss. With the ongoing pandemic, there is a growing concern of gender and financial disparities that can impede women’s access to eyecare.

Immediate Past President of VOSH/International Dr. Tracy Matchinski comments that, in addition, women have an important role in their communities including having and raising children, managing the household, and often working outside the home to support their families. There are many publications that show women are one of the groups that are less likely to have access to eyecare. This is problematic because women are more likely to have eye health and vision problems. Often during VOSH clinic trips, Dr. Matchinski has seen women not coming into the clinic and wanting their children and other families to get the care first. Women must remember to take care of themselves so they have the best vision and eye health, and they can continue to care for their families and contribute to their communities.

Women have a higher prevalence of major vision problems even after controlling for age including age-related macular degeneration, autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis related optic neuritis, Systemic lupus erythematosus or Sjögren’s Syndrome), dry eye disease, idiopathic intracranial hypertension, pregnancy related eye issues, menopause related eye issues, and thyroid eye disease. Cataracts, glaucoma, and refractive error (myopia, hypermetropia, and presbyopia), can also hinder eye health, vision, and quality of life.

Simple steps to support your eye health and vision:
Do not smoke
Eat a healthy diet high in antioxidants
Wear sunglasses/use UV protection
Schedule an eye exam

Progress is being made of course. For example, one of the conditions that commonly affects women, thyroid eye disease, has recently had exciting developments with the FDA approval of Tepezza (teprotumumab-trbw) to help modify disease outcomes of thyroid eye disease, such as improvement in proptosis and diplopia.

It is important that women prioritize their eye health to detect vision problems early. Timely treatment for most eye abnormalities and diseases can greatly decrease the risk of permanent vision loss.

Written by: Valerie Tran Rein, OD

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Updated COVID-19 and VOSH Humanitarian Clinics Advice

VOSH/International recently consulted its US and International Chapters about the feasibility and timing to restart our humanitarian clinics. While the vaccination process continues with different levels of success depending on availability and acceptance, it is evident that vaccine inequity and the availability and reliability of data in several countries are issues we need to consider.

Even if already vaccinated, our chapters are still concerned about the wellbeing of our volunteers and patients.  Some chapters, are organizing clinics locally where they are better able to comply with the existing safety requirements and respective state/country regulations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is being experienced quite differently depending on state, region, country, vaccine availability, vaccine acceptance, and the spread of SARS-COV-2 variants. Most VOSH chapters are not holding clinics or traveling internationally in 2021.

Thus, VOSH/International is slightly moderating its overall guidance against clinics and travel issued in late March 2020 and renewed in January 2021. This will be reviewed and communicated on a quarterly basis.

If a VOSH Chapter choses to hold a clinic or travel internationally, we highly recommend that the chapter performs due diligence to comply fully with the requirements established by the visited country, ensures all VOSH volunteers are aware of and follow strict safety guidelines and all existing protocols and regulations of the country, and keeps the principle of “do no harm” embedded in all its decision making. As always, the wellbeing and safety for VOSH volunteers and our patients is of utmost importance and central to any decision-making process. We have published our updated clinic guidelines with best practices to be observed in this new context. VOSH chapters in specific countries are using protocols that need to be considered as well. You can download VOSH/International clinic guidelines here.

*VOSH/International is formed by autonomous US and international chapters that are fully and only responsible for their activities, fundraising and decision-making.  VOSH/International can only provide recommendations based on our best knowledge and information at the time.

Also please keep checking the following sites with official and most recent updates:

World Health Organisation: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

US CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/when-to-delay-travel.html

US Government Travel Advise: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html

Thank you for your hard work and dedication to improving vision and eye health throughout the world.

John Daniel Twelker, OD, PhD, FAAO, FVI

President, VOSH/International

July 2021