It did not take long for things to move into high gear for the 19 pioneering students in the new Optometry Program and clinic that opened last weekend in Haiti. Once qualified, these first generation optometrists will use their skills to address the unmet eye care need across the nation. There are currently only three optometrists and 56 ophthalmologists to serve Haiti’s population of 10 million people.

Haiti has the highest levels of blindness and moderate or severe vision impairment among people aged 50 and over, in the entire Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, with the age-standardised prevalence estimated at 4.8% and 21.9% respectively. This is three times greater than some other countries in the region.

VOSH/International is a major collaborating partner in the Haiti Optometry Program along with with I’Université d’État d’Haïti, Brien Holden Vision Institute, Optometry Giving Sight, Charity Vision, and l’Université de Montréal. Drs. Paul Halpern, Dave McPhillips, both VOSH-PA represented VOSH.

Two small VOSH led outreach trips involving the new students were done the day before and after the school opening ceremony and launch event organized by Dr. David McPhillips, VOSH-PA and past VOSH/International President, on request from Brien Holden Vision Institute, a key collaborating partner. The VOSH team included winners of a Vision Source contest including doctors Thomas and Susan Quinn and Shane Foster from Ohio and Dr. Christine Bowman. Vision Source is a large organization of private practice optometrists nationwide that has contributed significant funds to the new school.

Updated COVID-19 and VOSH Humanitarian Clinics Advice

Due to an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 infections, a new variant that is more contagious, and these being early days in the vaccination distribution, VOSH/International DOES NOT recommend that chapters participate in domestic or international eye and vision clinics at this time.

We reiterate that at a time when the coronavirus continues to spread quickly in many parts of the world and vaccinations are not yet available to local populations, the risk of close contact with patients in a crowded outpatient environment remains high.

If a VOSH Chapter or VOSH volunteer chooses to hold a clinic against our best guidance, this is done at your own risk, by your own decision and should be in line with current local/national government rules.  VOSH/International would like to reiterate that 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.  You can download VOSH/International clinic guidelines here

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 patience in these unprecedented times, hard work and dedication to improving vision and eye health throughout the world.

John Daniel Twelker, OD, PhD, FAAO, FVI

President, VOSH/International

January 2021