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Climate Change: The next big risk to eye health

Published: 14.02.2023
Princess Ifeoma Ike Principal Optometrist/CEO
Princess Vision Eye Clinic Limited Abuja Nigeria
Blue background. Centred text in white says: Climate Change the next big risk to eye health. Below it Princess Ifeoma Ike, Optometrist/CEO, Princess Vision Eye Clinic Limited Abuja Nigeria in white, on the extreme right is a photo of Princess.

Nature is not against us; rather, what has to change is how we relate to it. Even though it seems to be underreported or ignored, as a Public Health Optometrist practising in Nigeria, we are familiar with the negative impacts of climate change on eye health.

The stability of healthcare systems, governments, and local communities are all significantly impacted by climate change, as is our own health. We are all impacted on a local, national, international, and personal level by this global emergency.

All around the world, environmental deterioration, air pollution, and climate change are having catastrophic repercussions, with vulnerable and low-income groups bearing the brunt of the harm. Determining the climate risk as it relates to the eyes and visual system is crucial as the world starts to comprehend the impacts of rising global temperatures on our communities.

The eyes are one of the most unique organs of the body susceptible to developing diseases resulting from environmental factors especially as they are exposed directly to the environment and changes in weather. Indeed, it is estimated that approximately 20% of cataract cases are the direct result of ultraviolet (UV) radiation overexposure amongst a significant rise in the incidence of some other ocular disease such as pterygium and ocular allergies.

Populations that are already at risk of poverty due to climate change will have even less access to healthcare. The prevalence of visual impairment and blindness in our communities will deteriorate as a result of the anticipated rise in eye diseases and the disruptions in eye care services, with vulnerable populations being disproportionately impacted.

This emphasises the urgent need to explain the urgency of climatic changes and how harmful they can be to eye health in order to modify people’s behaviour, elicit a more comprehensive response from world leaders, and stop the catastrophic development of eye diseases in the future.

In addition, every African country, including Nigeria, deserves and needs greater funding, information exchange, and human resources for eye and health care, as well as better early warning systems and health service delivery.

In order to be shock-proof in the face of present and future health security challenges, particularly increasing shocks from climate change, health systems need to be modified and fortified.

As expressed in an opinion piece I authored and published by the World Economic Forum Agenda, for climate-related decision-making to be inclusive and all-encompassing, healthcare, especially eye care, should not be an afterthought. As governments and world leaders develop policies that have climate implications at the national and global levels, the healthcare sector should be adequately represented and involved in this process.They must and should recognize the eye care sector as a productive investment rather than an expense.