President’s Insights April 2020

April 28th, 2020 is World Day for Safety and Health at Work, and that includes volunteer work. Last month VOSH/International issued a recommendation to all chapters to halt clinical activity to prevent the unnecessary spread of this new coronavirus and to protect our volunteers and patients. As we take this time to pause and reconsider our important work in vision and ophthalmic care, let’s briefly think about how we could proceed forward in safety and health.

I am very excited that under the leadership of Tim Wingert, OD our new VOSH/International Education Committee, will offer online lectures on areas of our expertise and promote the sharing of knowledge among our chapters and partners worldwide. For example, our XOVA funded project to build capacities to fit gas permeable contact lenses at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Optometry School in Kumasi, Ghana will benefit from online lectures by experts such as Deepa Chandrasekaran, OD, MS, FAAO, FIACLE and Ed Bennett, OD, MS.Ed. This emerging online education work will enable us to reach more optometry students and faculty in complete safety.

When we start up clinics again, we will need to consider how to keep our volunteers and patients safe and healthy. As COVID-19 is mostly spread through small droplets through breathing, talking, coughing, and sneezing, we may need to recommend wearing surgical procedure masks for all volunteers and patients to help contain the droplets, thereby offering a measure of protection. Most droplets fall within 6 feet (2 meters) of an individual. That means that all volunteer workstations must be physically spaced out and all patients waiting must be spread out. Access to personal protective equipment (PPE) will remain an issue in the countries we visit, and I am glad that VOSH/International is supporting our international VOSH chapters getting PPE for either themselves or fellow frontline health workers that need it immediately.

Our cleaning procedures will need to ensure that all equipment is wiped down with alcohol-based cleaner or disinfectant between patients and a thorough cleaning must be done at the end of each day. The VOSH volunteers must wash/disinfect hands between patients and frequently throughout the day. As not all the places we visit have running water, taking precautions to have enough disinfectant will be a priority. We may need to take all patients temperatures, asking anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees F (37.8 Celsius) or more about common signs and symptoms and if necessary, refer to the appropriate level of the public health system. Any volunteers presenting symptoms may not be able to participate in the clinics.

All the above will have consequences on the format and volume of our clinics and will require us to work more collaboratively with local optometrists, optometry students and perhaps other health workers; teaching important skills and concepts along the way. After all, we as VOSH volunteers might only be in a location for a week, but the community needs eyecare all weeks of the year. There are several questions emerging as a result of this pandemic that will affect our work model and that we should be ready to discuss for our own and our patients’ safety.

Happy World Day for Safety and Health at Work, everyone! And remember, sometimes it’s best for safety reasons to not go to work. But as we consider reopening offices, clinics, and VOSH clinics with the important task of eye and vision care, we’ll need to pay close attention to safety and health at work home and abroad.

Daniel Twelker, OD, PhD, 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