I mentioned in last week’s update that there were some glimmers of hope that the Russian forces were at least withdrawing from around Kiev, having been defeated by the Ukrainian resistance. However, this has now revealed the true horror of the Russian occupation in towns such as Irpin and Bucha. At the same time, the invasion is entering a new and possibly even more dangerous phase as the Russian Army concentrates all its might on pummelling towns in the Donbas region.

The task for ESCRS, along with EuRetina and ESOPRS, is, therefore, as great as ever. I have summarised what we are doing and why below.

ESCRS has secured ample storage in Krakow, which includes monitored refrigeration, and also has use of a forward distribution sight which is an ophthalmic clinic in Lviv. We use a network of Ukrainian surgeons, initially set up by Dr Lyubomyr Lytvynchuck, a VR consultant in Giessen, but now also with input from many other surgeons based in Ukraine, including several ESCRS members. This all ensures the right equipment reaches the surgeons who have specific needs for it. I have approached several industry partners - and intend to contact several more - to obtain donations of the items identified as being most needed by our Ukrainian colleagues and these very generous donations are now arriving regularly in Krakow for onward distribution to Ukraine.

Using this network of ophthalmic surgeons and arranging our own storage and distribution is actually the most efficient way of ensuring highly specialised products go only to where they are most needed and where they will be used to best effect. I am confident that this distribution network, which involves up to 80% of ophthalmic surgeons in Ukraine and is already tried and tested, is the most effective means of delivery and ESCRS will continue to ensure the products are also securely stored (for example, we have inspected the sites in Krakow and Lviv). ESCRS is covering all admin costs including leasing the storage, paying for transport, import duties and labelling. We shall also be purchasing some vitally needed pharma products such as antibiotic and steroid eyedrops for distribution to 20 clinics throughout Ukraine next week as well as arranging for some much-needed equipment to be acquired and transported to major ophthalmic departments where it will be put to immediate use.

We have looked into other possibilities for delivering ophthalmic products and none of them would work well for what we want to do. For example, ICRC is overwhelmed with trying to organise refugee convoys, the Polish Medical Mission is interested in more nonspecific medical supplies, the UN logistics hub would store things but does not cover forward distribution and the WHO health hub might deliver but only to two or three main centres. By keeping our assistance very specific and involving Ukrainian surgeons at all stages the process is tight. We avoid the risk of our relatively small but highly specialised quantities of aid being swamped and lost among the massive quantities of more general medical aid that is now arriving in Ukraine. We shall also ensure an inventory is kept and the movement of equipment is monitored as well as possible.

We have already received several donations from our members - thank you! Below, I am including the same message as last week about our Ukrainian fund as some of you may wish to donate, which would be greatly appreciated. In particular, I would like to thank our Hellenic and UK sister societies for their very generous and timely donations. 

I would just like to add that I have been very engaged in looking at how ESCRS can contribute beyond supplying ophthalmic equipment and pharma products. We looked at setting up a new database for more general medical needs, but we already have a spreadsheet that records what is most needed which we share with industry - and this seems to be working well. This reinforces the point that we should stick with what we know best. We should concentrate on our area of expertise, which is not fully covered by anyone else, and not stray into trying to provide items that are not ophthalmology related and which could lead us into a potential regulatory and logistical difficulties. 

However, we are actively looking into how we could create an automated database or directory for international consultant support (not telemedicine per se as there seems to be no immediate need for this but more consultation regarding particular cases) as well as, long-term, how to provide secondary trauma care for Ukrainian ophthalmic patients across centres in Europe. There are some hurdles to overcome in setting up these databases but together with David Verity from the oculplastic surgeons we have a medical web expert assisting us with this pro bono and we hope to be able to announce how consultants worldwide can volunteer to provide short-term advice. The aim is that consultants who are willing to assist should be able to enter essential details, including availability and areas of expertise, onto a website and update this whenever they wish. This directory would then be shared with Ukrainian surgeons. 

Another area we have been looking at this week is how we can best support individual Ukrainian ophthalmic refugee surgeons in institutions across western and central Europe. We are seeking feedback from as many countries as possible on this, but it is likely that employing such surgeons will be universally difficult. Nevertheless, if we find that some institutions have produced innovative ways of helping these surgeons, we shall share the information.

Once again, we reiterate our full support for our Ukrainian colleagues, who are often continuing to serve their patients under the most challenging of circumstances. 

Stay safe!

Oliver Findl
President of ESCRS

The Society has decided to establish a fund to accept financial donations which will be directed exclusively to support ophthalmology-related relief efforts arising from the conflict in Ukraine. We can accept donations to the fund from ESCRS members as well as industry partners and fellow societies.

We are able to accept these donations via bank transfer and, if you are an ESCRS member and wish to contribute, please simply log in at this link https://donate.escrs.org using your membership details to access information on how to donate, which is a straightforward process. 

For industry partners or fellow societies, please email escrs@mci-group.com for information on how to make your donation. 

For our Ukrainian readers please click here for further useful information

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European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons | Email: escrs@escrs.org | Phone: +44 (0)1730 715 212

ESCRS, as with so many international professional institutions and societies, is deeply disturbed by the recent unprovoked and potentially overwhelming attack on a fellow European country. It utterly condemns the actions of the Russian State in invading Ukraine and wishes to express its full sympathy and support for the Ukrainian people and, in particular, all our colleagues within the Ukrainian Society. Our Ukrainian colleagues should know that our thoughts are very much with them and that, as a society, ESCRS will try its best to support them in any way we can, both professionally and individually. Not least, they have our professional respect and personal admiration for continuing to carry out their vital work within a population that now needs them more than ever. We all hope for a peaceful and equitable solution in the very near future.

Oliver Findl - President, Paul Rosen - Chairman of Trustees

Thomas Kohnen - Treasurer, Filomena Ribeiro - Secretary, Rudy Nuijts - Immediate past President

John Bateson - Trustee, Jose Guell - Trustee, Roberto Bellucci - Trustee, Till Staffeldt - Trustee