We are all becoming increasingly aware of the adverse impact that climate change is having on all aspects of life on earth. The climate crisis is threatening to reverse all the progress in health improvement and poverty alleviation, with the greatest impact on marginalized communities across developing countries, particularly women and girls, and people with disabilities. From an eye health perspective, the incidence and severity of ocular conditions are likely to worsen due to climate change, including for conditions such as trachoma, cataract, and vitamin A deficiency. At the same time, climate related disasters, such as floods and droughts, disrupt eye health service delivery by damaging health infrastructure and supply chains for medications and consumables.
Therefore, organizations working to help improve sight must prioritize climate action on two fronts. Firstly, by recognizing the potential adverse environmental impacts of their work, and secondly, by adapt programs to enhance their resilience against the negative effects of climate change.
It’s time for action
The IAPB, through the Climate Action Work Group (CAWG), has led the eye health sector in declaring a climate emergency, issuing a call to action and guidelines for the organizations working in eye care to prioritize and implement environmentally sustainable practices. The CAWG aims to build awareness, provide guidance and share best practices among the eye health sector. While the work group has been successful in building awareness, the emphasis now is to support with technical guidance and practical tools on how to effectively implement environmentally sustainable practices.
The health care sector is responsible for 4.4% of global emissions, and the eye health sector needs to acknowledge the role it plays on contributing to global emissions. We need take steps to reduce this. International travel constitutes the major share of global emissions arising from the activities of international NGOs (INGOs). Therefore, organizations can mitigate this impact by opting for alternatives such as video conferencing and leveraging local teams to reduce the need for air travel. Procurement accounts for another significant contribution to greenhouse gas emission, and local suppliers should be considered where possible. Other strategies to reduce emissions include exploring renewable sources, such as solar for energy for eye care facilities and using energy efficient equipment. The major challenge for INGOS is that they work in some of the least developed areas where alternative sources of energy and local suppliers may not be present, therefore it is key to understand local contexts.
Bringing focus back to the communities
As the adverse effects of climate change on our programs are increasingly apparent, integrating greater climate resilience from the onset is essential. An effective approach involves the understanding the local climate risks in collaboration with communities to identify both risks and adaptations. An effective strategy for both mitigation and adaptation involves the prioritizing the development of eye care services that are closer to the communities, that is, services at the community and primary levels. This not only curbs emissions resulting from people travelling to secondary or tertiary eye hospitals in cities, but also safeguards services from climate-induced disruptions.
Climate change has a significant impact on the communities that we aim to help, many of whom are at the greatest risk to the negative effects. Consequently, project design and implementation must factor in these considerations—reducing environmental impact and enhancing resilience against climate change’s consequences. Transparency with partners and funders regarding environmental sustainability initiatives is imperative, where they need to be made aware of the need, the challenges, and what steps are taken to promote environmental sustainability.
Forging a sustainable path forward
Within every challenge, there is opportunity to improve the ways of working. Strengthening environmental sustainability efforts requires integrating climate action in all project aspects. A starting point, would be to implement the 10 key areas of action from the IAPB Call to Action work, and share the learning and approaches across the sector. As we lead by example, we spark inspiration among others in the sector to elevate their practices in this vital domain. Our collective efforts hold the promise of fostering a more resilient, sustainable, and impactful future for eye care and the communities we serve.
Also read: IAPB Survey reveals more needed to accelerate climate action in eye health
Image on top: This little girl was diagnosed with retinoblastoma- an eye cancer She now has one eye by Keith Kalu