Title: President’s Circle Award for Typhoon Haiyan Eye Care Relief, Philippines

Link: https://vimeo.com/115820774

An extraordinary acceptance speech by mission leaders Marina Roma-March, OD and Derrick March describes a VOSH disaster relief effort to aid the victims of Typhoon Hiayan in the Philippines. The VOSH/International Presidents Circle Award was given in November, 2014 at the VOSH/International annual meeting to:

VOSH-BC, Third World Eye Care Society Canada (TWECS)

Typhoon Haiyan Eye Care Relief, Philippines

On December 22 1989 the United Nations General Assembly, in response to a significant rise in natural disasters, declared 1990’s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction( IDNDR). The aim of this resolution was to create international support of disaster relief efforts to more effectively alleviate human suffering and economic loss. Six years later, a United Nations World Conference in Yokohama Japan, formalized an action plan to manage disasters. This disaster plan consists of four phases and is known internationally as the Disaster Management Cycle. The time and length of each phase is mainly dependent on the infrastructure of the country and the integrity and political stability of the government.

The phases are Preparedness, Response, Recovery and Mitigation. The preparedness phase involves evacuation centres, early warning systems and public awareness. The response phase occurs immediately after the disaster and would include providing basic human needs of food, shelter and water as well as search and rescue. The recovery phase begins when the response/relief phase ends or when the threat to human life no longer exists. It is the rebuilding of sustainable livelihoods. The mitigation phase is to ensure safety measures are in place to minimize human suffering and disruption from any future disasters. This would include building codes, zoning and early warning systems.

VOSH International can assist in the recovery process of a natural disaster by providing survivors with an important tool for rebuilding their lives, replacement eyewear. The timing of the project is critical; to ensure that the response effort has successfully occurred and that basic human needs are being met, that bodies have been buried and that there is no further risk to human life.

Before mobilizing a team with tens of thousands of eyeglasses, finances must be secured as well as a collaboration agreement with a disaster relief organization already on the ground, one of the many first responders expected. After a disaster, all monetary transactions are made in cash and are quite costly because of the high demand for services and the limited resources. A VOSH team will get local support if it is willing to pay the price and the price can be astronomical for access, volunteers, transportation and accommodation. It is imperative to make contact and communicate with a relief organization on the ground. Most relief NGOs provide a Daily Situation Report (SitRep) and will send these reports back to head office.  If VOSH was aligned with such an NGO the VOSH Disaster Committee can be included in the dispersion of these SitReps.  These reports are a wealth of up-to-date information and provide a clear picture of the scope of the disaster as well as the needs of survivors. These SitReps would be an invaluable resource when the time came to decide when and where to deploy the VOSH team. Relief organizations could also share their sources of food and accommodations with VOSH provided it does not affect their team and their mandate. Consequently, it would be wise to make contact with reputable and reliable indigenous groups who can work on VOSH’S behalf and be the back up if contacts from relief organizations fail to follow through or are not in line with VOSH’s schedule or needs.

Regular proceedings for customs must occur, and since it is in response to a disaster, it may require additional clearance from the WHO. In 2010 the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health produced guidelines for Foreign Medical Teams (FMTs) responding to a sudden onset disaster. It included the genesis of an FMT Working Group of the Global Health Cluster and the WHO, that would allow for coordination, registry and answerability of FMTs after a disaster. This working group would work under the National Department of Health. Foreign Medical Teams will require the approval of and registration by the Department of Health to expedite and facilitate logistical support for the project. Foreign Medical Teams are classified into three categories based on the service provided, length of time of support, and the self sufficiency of the FMT. For example, the VOSH INTERNATIONAL Typhoon Haiyan eye care project in 2014 was approved as category 1 with specialized care. The VOSH emergency response team was advised by the WHO representative in the Philippines that “the need is high for the type of services your team wants to provide”.

A team leader must have strong ties with local groups in country and a familiarity of the area devastated by the disaster. Ideally, this would be someone who has done repeated projects in the area.

Teams must be self sustainable so as not to be a burden for the host community. This would involve providing a means or access to proper drinking water and food. Team members should be prepared for extreme camping conditions and take all necessary precautions against mosquito borne illnesses, bed bugs and food poisoning.

If possible, it would be prudent to have someone from the team travel a few days ahead to ensure that accommodations are prepared and that proper and adequate transportation for the boxes and for the team is ready and available. This team member would be able to advise the team leader prior to the team’s departure of items needed or not needed for the project based on his/her observations.

Keeping in mind that there are no other resources for eyeglasses and may not be for quite some time, it would be wise to bring a large inventory from +20D to -20D with emphasis on powers for reading glasses. All optometric equipment should be portable and battery operated. A Slit lamp and a foreign body removal kit will be useful. The most practical medications to bring are topical fortified antibiotics, steroids and steroid/antibiotic combinations.

In an effort to better understand our role in the recovery process and the protocols in place with other relief organizations, realize every disaster or emergency situation is unique. VOSH teams don’t always have to have an exact protocol per se but rather a “checklist”. In every case make sure that agency standards and financial guidelines are met. For the purpose of a VOSH emergency response team, timing is the most important consideration. The timing of the project is of paramount importance to the success and it is suggested responding one to two months post disaster, when most relief agencies are leaving the area.

VOSH International endeavors to receive recognition or partnership with credible and active relief groups such as the Mercy Corps, Oxfam, Caritas and GlobalMedic. There are also national and international organizations that act as a forum where aid groups can pool their resources together after a disaster such as the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster in the United States and the Disasters Emergency Committee in Britain.

Developed and Written by Marina Roma-March, OD and Derrick March, VOSH-BC (TWEKS), March 2015 and VOSH/International Preseident David R. McPhillips, OD, FAAO, FVI (VOSH-PA)