President’s Insights September 2020

Every second Thursday of October the eye health sector celebrates World Sight Day (WSD) to raise awareness about the importance of vision and how to address barriers to optimal vision. Since 2000, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) coordinates this event and its 150 members, including VOSH/International, actively support the yearly call for action.

This is an excellent opportunity for your local VOSH chapter or student chapter to highlight the effects of preventable blindness and visual impairment (VI), and how to address the conditions that lead to these. As optometrists, encouraging people to take an eye examination is something we do as a key first step to prevent blindness and visual impairment. Our humanitarian clinics are part of this important preventive action. Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have VI or blindness, of whom at least in 1 billion people could have been prevented. The burden of eye conditions and VI and blindness is not borne equally. The burden tends to be greater in low- and middle-income countries and underserved populations, such as women, migrants, indigenous peoples, persons with certain kinds of disability, and in rural communities.

The World Health Organization’s World Report on Vision shows that the billions with VI or blindness takes into consideration those with near vision impairment due to presbyopia (1.8 billion) and moderate to severe distance VI or blindness due to other unaddressed refractive errors (123.7 million), cataract (65.2 million), age-related macular degeneration (10.4 million), glaucoma (6.9 million), corneal opacities (4.2 million), diabetic retinopathy (3 million), trachoma (2 million), and other causes (37.1 million).

The fact that unaddressed refractive errors constitute such a large proportion of preventable VI and blindness puts the onus on VOSH/International and its chapters to continue our work with great energy in the United States and worldwide to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to sight. We know, and have seen over and over, that a simple pair of spectacles for presbyopia, for example, can immediately change a person’s world. That pair of reading glasses can allow someone to do meaningful work again or to read a book or important information on the internet. A simple pair of spectacles for myopia could allow a child to once again see learning material on a blackboard or far away monitor or screen. We know that myopia has developed into a worldwide pandemic. Over 2 billion people have myopia, including 312 million children under 19 years of age. This World Sight Day, let’s remember that sight can give people hope for a better life and let us support the World Sight Day Challenge that enables many organizations across the world to make this a reality.

For more information on World Sight Day, or ideas on how to help, please see these sources of information.

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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