President’s Insights March 2020

To all VOSH Volunteers, Board Members, Executive Committee and Partners:

As we all know, all over the world people are facing unprecedented challenges. There is the pandemic itself that nations are dealing with slow downs, lockdowns, ramping up testing capabilities and improving treatment options for critically ill patients. There are the economic repercussions of the pandemic, with tens of thousands of optometrists out of work or on leave temporarily. There are also many small practice owners that were forced to lay off valued employees. There are many uncertainties right now.

Please hang in there everyone. The outbreak in China has initially passed in about 8 weeks. South Korea, so hard hit after China, has initiated extensive testing and compassionate quarantine for test positive people with great effect. People are going back to work. The number of new cases in Italy has peaked and should start to decrease steadily any day now. Here in the US we are still on the upward portion of the curve, in other words, it will get worse and then it will get better. And once the US, UK, and Europe are through the worst I have serious concerns on how developing countries will deal with this pandemic with already strained and underfunded health care systems.

VOSH/International has already recommended a temporary halt to all domestic and international clinics. We had halted all unnecessary travel. We are concentrating on becoming better connected, using what modern technology has to offer. We will concentrate on education for VOSH and SVOSH Chapters. We will improve our  understanding of the impact on our international chapters.  We will develop clinic guidelines to provide eye care while limiting spread of this coronavirus, which means smaller, more controlled, lower volume clinics more like a private optometry practice. We will follow best practices to lower risk, limit spread, and still help people with their vision needs until there is a vaccine 12-18 months from now.

It remains to be seen but the WHO or CDC might change their recommendations on face mask wearing for protecting health care providers while seeing routine patients. At this moment the guidance is to not wear a protective face mask while examining an asymptomatic patient. But the unique way that this coronavirus is transmitted from asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people could change all of that.

Please do not forget that each and every one of you are important to the VOSH/International leadership. We are taking steps to keep you safe and provide wise guidance going forward. Take care and wash your hands (regularly)!

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