Like so many others, ​I ​have been watching the devastation unfold in Texas and Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. In addition to personal accounts from family in the area, social media platforms such as Facebook have provided us all a personal glimpse into the lives of people that have had to evacuate their homes, lost their business, cars, the list goes on and on. 

VOSH stands for Volunteer Optometric Services to HUMANITY. There’s many definitions of humanity, but I like this one from Merriam-Webster “the quality or state of being kind to other people or animals”. VOSHer’s volunteer their time and talents because we care and get so much by giving of ourselves.  

Vision related injuries, including broken or lost glasses​, are often the product of such disasters.  The severity of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath call us once again to respond in desperate times. If you want to help with the recovery effort or know people affected by Hurricane Harvey, there’s a few sources to which we can guide you:

Remote Area Medical (RAM) will be launching a mission to the affected area in the coming weeks. They are looking for medical and veterinary volunteers to help them in this cause. Go to http://ramusa.org/disaster-relief/ to find out more.

The Eye Center of Houston, Vision Source has partnered with VSP and EyeMed Vision and plans to offer FREE Eye Exams and Glasses for First Responders or ANY disaster victims who have lost or damaged their glasses. If you have VSP or EyeMed, schedule your FREE exam today 713-777-2020. If you don’t have VSP or EyeMed, contact your local American Red Cross (redcross.org), as they are giving out VSP vouchers.

I’m sure there’s other resources and options that I don’t personally know about, feel free to post them on VOSH’s Facebook page. One word of caution against scams that crop up after an event like this. You can search non-profits and check their validity by going to www.guidestar.org.

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