There is growing recognition that climate change represents the greatest threat to global health – including eye health – of our time. We know that a range of eye care conditions, including cataract, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and trachoma are impacted by environmental factors, from air pollution to food and water insecurity. We also know that healthcare facilities face increasing disruptions from more frequent and severe weather disasters, and are often on the frontline in helping vulnerable communities displaced or impacted by climate change. Healthcare also has a sizeable contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, waste, and pollution, accounting for 4.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
To support the eye care sector in responding to these complex but urgent challenges, The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) established a Climate Action Working Group in 2017 and launched a practical Guide in 2021 with evidence-based strategies to embed environmental sustainability across their strategy, operations and policies.
Between September 2021 and March 2022, the IAPB conducted a comprehensive survey to gain insights into the extent to which its members are engaging with the “Guide to Environmentally Sustainable Practices in the Eye Health Sector” (the Guide), its ten areas of action (Figure 1), and gaps for improvement. The survey, which was promoted to IAPB members through newsletters and conducted online, received 21 responses, with 47% of respondents being female, 57% being IAPB members, and 67% coming from non-governmental organizations.
The survey explored participants’ awareness of the climate action working group and its key initiatives, including the Call to Action and the Guide. The majority (57%) of respondents found the Guide useful for their organization, and the same percentage had read both the Call to Action and the Guide. It was also encouraging to see that two-thirds (67%) followed news from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Additionally, 80% of respondents expressed a desire to receive more information from the climate action working group about its activities and resources, and 76% were aware of the group’s existence.
Participants were then asked to reflect on their organization’s contributions to the ten key areas of action in the Call to Action and the Guide. Embedding climate change and environmental sustainability in advocacy was the highest scoring action area, followed by reducing travel and use of fossil fuels. Most participants indicated some degree of action across other priority areas – including leadership, sustainable procurement, addressing waste, and promoting sustainable clinical practice – however embedding environmental sustainability into education, research and water conservation were the lowest scoring domains.
The survey also aimed to identify the barriers to climate action faced by organizations in the eye health sector. The top three challenges were that other priorities took precedence, a lack of financial resources, and a lack of technical capacity.
Finally, participants were asked what additional resources would assist their organization in its journey towards climate action. The top three responses were having more information on sustainable clinical practice, waste management, and advocacy. Participants identified program design tools, organizational assessment tools, and case studies from other health organizations as the types of resources that they needed to advance climate action.
Although the sample size was small, the results of this survey have given the climate action working group clear insights into the barriers that organizations in the eye health sector face when taking climate action. Based on these findings, the CAWG is exploring opportunities to develop further resources, including a practical implementation toolkit and partnerships with other climate-health organisations, to assist organizations in their journey towards environmentally sustainable practices.
To provide further feedback on the Guide or get involved, please contact IAPB.