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

Due to an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 infections, a new variant that is more contagious, and these being early days in the vaccination distribution, VOSH/International DOES NOT recommend that chapters participate in domestic or international eye and vision clinics at this time.

We reiterate that at a time when the coronavirus continues to spread quickly in many parts of the world and vaccinations are not yet available to local populations, the risk of close contact with patients in a crowded outpatient environment remains high.

If a VOSH Chapter or VOSH volunteer chooses to hold a clinic against our best guidance, this is done at your own risk, by your own decision and should be in line with current local/national government rules.  VOSH/International would like to reiterate that 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.  You can download VOSH/International clinic guidelines here

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 patience in these unprecedented times, hard work and dedication to improving vision and eye health throughout the world.

John Daniel Twelker, OD, PhD, FAAO, FVI

President, VOSH/International

January 2021