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ESCRS builds support network for Ukrainian ophthalmologists

Kohnen, Thomas MD, PhD, FEBO

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Journal of Cataract & Refractive Surgery: June 2022 - Volume 48 - Issue 6 - p 647-648
doi: 10.1097/j.jcrs.0000000000000959
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Since its formation nearly 30 years ago, one of the core principles of the ESCRS has been to transcend national borders in a spirit of collegiality to create a truly international community aimed at collectively improving vision and preventing blindness across the globe. This journal is an extension of that community, and many of our European and international readers and members are directly and indirectly affected by the crisis resulting from the unhumanitarian war waged against the people of Ukraine. The Society of Ukrainian Ophthalmic Surgeons is one of 19 international affiliates of the ESCRS and also therefore a member of the JCRS community. Our central European affiliates have been encountering Ukrainian families who have been fleeing the war for several months now, whereas our more distant readers are most likely only reading about the atrocities of this war. Regardless of geographical proximity to the conflict, I want to highlight the ways that ESCRS has worked hard to provide humanitarian and professional aid to our partners in Ukraine.

ESCRS President and JCRS Editorial Board member Dr. Oliver Findl, together with the ESCRS Executive Board and Council, has taken outstanding action in supporting our Ukrainian colleagues. Since early in the conflict, Dr. Findl has had continuous contact with Prof. Oksana Vitovska, head of the Ukrainian Alliance of Ophthalmologists, and Dr. Volodymyr Melnyk, head of the Society of Ukrainian Ophthalmic Surgeons. They have formed a critical communication chain allowing the needs and demands of the local eye surgeons in Ukraine to be heard and met by central European partners. The group also contacted several industry partners who agreed to assist in facilitating needed supplies.

To determine what supplies are most urgently needed for ophthalmic trauma care, the team contacted several anterior segment surgeons and vitreoretinal surgeons from ESCRS and EURETINA, as well as NATO surgeons from St. John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem with experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. This collaboration provided a clear idea of what supplies are most needed and allowed the group to start organizing on how to make those supplies available.

The final and most challenging step has been the logistics of getting the supplies to the surgeons who need them. Our Polish colleague and former ESCRS council member, Prof. Ewa Mrukwa-Kominek, assisted in actively seeking suitable storage facilities in Poland. With her help, ESCRS has secured ample storage in Krakow, which includes monitored refrigeration, and also has use of a forward distribution sight that is an ophthalmic clinic in Lviv. This hub serves as a supply warehouse for our colleagues still working in Ukraine, including several ESCRS members. Being in communication with the physicians in Ukraine ensures that the right equipment reaches the surgeons who have specific needs for it. Using this network of ophthalmic surgeons and arranging our own storage and distribution has been the most efficient way of ensuring highly specialized products end up where they are most needed and where they will be most effectively used. At the time of publication, ESCRS is covering all administrative costs, including leasing the storage unit, paying for transport, import duties, and labeling. We will also be purchasing some vitally needed pharmaceutical products such as antibiotic and steroid eyedrops for distribution to 20 clinics throughout Ukraine, 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 (Figure 1).

Figure 1.:
ESCRS volunteer loads medical supplies to be distributed where needed by the Society of Ukrainian Ophthalmic Surgeons.

ESCRS is also actively looking into how we could create an automated database or directory for international consultation support for specific cases. Not to be confused with telemedicine, this would be a list of specialists across the world available for consultation with Ukrainian physicians about specific cases. We are also beginning to explore how the society could provide secondary trauma care for Ukrainian ophthalmic patients in clinics across Europe. There are some hurdles to overcome in setting up these databases, but together with David Verity from the oculoplastic surgeons, we have a medical web expert assisting us with this and we hope to be able to announce how consultants worldwide could volunteer to provide short-term, pro bono 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 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. If your institution would be able to help in this way, please contact us.

Because of the amount of work and the number of people involved, it is impossible to adequately thank everyone involved who has worked to make these achievements possible, but we are extremely grateful for the efforts and generosity of everyone involved. Specifically, we would like to thank and acknowledge Dr. Tetsuro Oshika, President of the Japanese Ophthalmological Society, who has made a generous donation toward the efforts to support the surgeons and people of Ukraine. These funds will offset the costs of running the supply hub and will allow us to continue to provide assistance. The ASCRS will also be making a donation in the near future, for which we are grateful.

Dealing with the ravaging effects of a war crisis is not what our professional societies are accustomed to, but it is, nonetheless, part of the purpose of a community. I invite all our industry partners and sister societies to help support this mission, whether it be in donating supplies, cash donations to help purchase equipment, offering consultation services, or being able to host a refugee surgeon. If you would like to offer support, please contact our ESCRS office directly.

Finally, we hope that all our Ukrainian colleagues and their families are able to stay safe, and we applaud your resilience in providing urgently needed healthcare during this ongoing war and hope that this assault will soon be over. We stand by you and are ready to help to the best of our ability.


  • ESCRS has established a fund to accept financial donations that 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 through bank transfer. If you are an ESCRS member and wish to contribute, please simply log in at this link using your membership details to access information on how to donate, which is a straightforward process.
  • For industry partners or fellow societies, please email [email protected] for information on how to make your donation.

Copyright © 2022 Published by Wolters Kluwer on behalf of ASCRS and ESCRS