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

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