President’s Insights June 2020

VOSH/International Statement on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion

For almost 50 years VOSH/International and its chapters have provided the gift of vision and eye health to thousands of people worldwide. We offer our services to anyone experiencing economic, geographical, educational barriers to access quality eye care because we believe quality eye health should not be a privilege.  We do not believe people should be discriminated on the basis of their race, color, religion, gender, gender identity, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or the work they do. As the biggest global network of volunteer optometrists, we celebrate the abundance and diversity of expression the world has to offer.

It is undeniable that 2020 has brought unprecedented challenges and fundamental questions to our lives.  The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the unequal impact on the public health systems and the vulnerable communities that depend on them across the world. Everywhere, the tragic toll that COVID-19 has taken on ethnic minorities and disadvantaged groups is concerning.

This coronavirus does not discriminate, but health care challenges do not affect all communities in equal manner. For example, in Arizona -where I live- members of the Navajo Nation have been 4.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than other Arizona residents. In the US, black people are 3 to 4 times more likely to have a diagnosis of glaucoma compared to white people.

Sadly, in this already difficult context, the US has once again been confronted with the persistent pandemic of racism.  The current global reaction to racism and the inequality it creates require us to seriously reflect on the changes that society needs and the role we can play in this change.

We need to be consistent with our values at home and abroad.  We cannot feel unmoved and not hurt by what is happening in our society now.  We do not discriminate against our patients or volunteers, but that is clearly not enough.  We need to redouble our efforts to support access to optometry education to students from diverse backgrounds and be more proactive to ensure diverse representation in our leadership roles and structures.  We need to be more proactive reaching fellow optometrists from black and minority backgrounds to collaborate helping communities through humanitarian eye clinics and public health education. But we also need to be humble and learn more about the challenges our black and minority colleagues face and be ready to support each other in times of need.

VOSH/International volunteers strongly feel that serving others in need brings the best of them.  Let 2020 be the year where our vision strengthens, and we help others see that respect and kindness are the only way to a more just and equitable society for the benefit of all.

VOSH/International opposes racism and is committed to working for equality, diversity, and inclusion in the US 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