VOSH/International hosted its 25th annual meeting on October 14, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.  Ninety- two people attended a full day of speakers, breakout sessions, exhibitors and networking. There were speakers from around the world including the USA, Canada, Thailand, Vietnam, El Salvador and Nicaragua. These speakers highlighted how VOSH/International and VOSH chapters have truly become an international force for optometry by providing care with local optometry and helping to educate optometry students in new optometry schools.  As VOSH moves to collaborates with local optometry and health care, our impact has become greater.

Also at the Annual Meeting, there were two awards given for exemplary service.  The Humanitarian of the Year Award was presented to Dr. Sandra Bury of Oak Lawn, Illinois.  Dr. Bury has been active in VOSH-Illinois since 1995.  She participates in both local and international clinic trips and, in addition, Dr. Bury is the mayor of her town.

The Harry I. Zeltzer Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Dr. Ellis Potter. Dr. Potter has had a lifetime of service as a Boy Scout, Rotarian and Optometrist.  Notably, Dr. Potter also became the first ever recipient of the American Academy of Optometry’s Brien Holden Humanitarian Award.  He received this award at the 2017 AAO meeting immediately preceding the VOSH/International meeting. To read Dr. Potter’s powerful remarks when accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award, please click here.

Both Drs. Bury and Potter are classic examples of the people involved in VOSH.  People with big hearts that have volunteerism as an essential part of who they are.  These two and the other nominees for the Lifetime Achievement and Humanitarian of the Year Awards, David McPhillips, OD, Walter Branson, Bud Falkenhain, OD, Lawrence Hauler, and David Stacy, OD, remind us of what we can be doing to help others.  Dr. Bury reminded us to have “service about self” and Dr. Potter challenged us to “think big…We have done much, but we could do more.”  Words to inspire us as we all continue in our own efforts.   

Mark your calendars for the next VOSH Annual Meeting in Montreal, Canada on October 12-14, 2018.  Our theme at this meeting will be “United VOSH”, demonstrating the good we can do when working together.

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