International Day of Disabled Persons

Imagine losing your sight and with it your capacity to be independent, access education, work or engage socially.  In the world more than one billion people live with some form of disability.  Visual disability affects 217 million people with moderately or severely visual impairment and 36 million with blindness.  2.5 billion people around the world have uncorrected refractive error with 1.1 needing near correction due to presbyopia (https://visionimpactinstitute.org/).  80% of those affected by disability live in developing countries and are among those most marginalised.  

Since 1992, on December 3rd the International Day of Disabled Persons is observed across the world.  It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.  You can read more about it here: http://www.un.org/en/events/disabilitiesday/background.shtml

177 countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The purpose is to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.  Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/ConventionRightsPersonsWithDisabilities.aspx

Through our 84 chapters worldwide, VOSH/International reaches some of the most needed communities across the world bringing essential eye health care and preventing many people becoming permanently visually disabled.  Our community clinics deliver quality and equitable refraction, low vision, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy detection.  We often engage in partnerships to offer cataract surgeries and manage ocular disease.  VOSH is also working to support the development of optometry schools in several countries through faculty deployment, technology transfer program and VOSH clinics joining locally optometry to expand local capacity.  Through our support to global campaigns such as Our children’s vision we contribute to expanding access to eye health services for children across the world. 

As a low vision specialist, I have witnessed the difference the glasses and magnification devices can make to the lives of people who would otherwise be unable to carry out ordinary activities we take for granted.  Every optometrist knows the power of refraction and ocular health assessment to allow clear vision to travel, work, go to school.  On this International Day of People with Disabilities, I want to reiterate VOSH/International’s commitment to ensuring eye health services are inclusive, accessible, affordable and of good quality for everyone so avoidable visual impairment can be reduced, and more people can enjoy their lives free of visual disability.

Tracy Matchinski, OD, FAAO, FVI, President VOSH/International

 

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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