As the global temperature rises and greenhouse gases continue to be emitted, the Lancet has signalled a “code red” for the world’s future, meaning that across all indicators that track the impacts of climate change on human health, things are getting worse.
The devastating impact of climate change on health will flow on to affect eye health. It is predicted to increase the incidence of trachoma infections, cataracts, eye lesions, severe allergic eye diseases, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and eye injuries.
Extreme weather events will lead to a disruption of critical eye care services such as cataract surgeries and refraction error services including the supply of medicines and spectacles.
The combination of predicted increases in eye disease together with the disruption of eye care services will worsen the prevalence of vision impairment and blindness in our communities, and vulnerable populations will be disproportionally affected.
Global health care is estimated to account for around 5% of all greenhouse-gas emissions, and eye care, as a high volume service with large numbers of consultations and procedures, is a substantial contributor to this.
This is a global issue that every country needs to look at regardless of their health system or economic status. The Lancet Global Commission report found that CO2 emissions from cataract operations in the UK were 23 times the emissions per operation in India. The sector is also a large contributor to plastic waste.
This will require us to educate ourselves, engage partners and commit to change that results in more sustainable practices across eye health on a range of issues.
There is great political drive now for the eye health sector to push the climate action agenda forward. In 2021, the Lancet Commission on Global Eye Health added Planetary Health as a key component to improving the quality of eye care.
In recognition of Earth Day, on April 22, 2021, IAPB declared a climate emergency and released a Call to Action for Environmentally Sustainable Practices in the Eye Health Sector and a Guide for Environmentally Sustainable Practices in the Eye Health Sector. Following in on the successful launch of the resources, there have been several promotional events to continue to bring awareness to climate change and eye care.
You can learn about environmentally sustainable ophthalmology at EyeSustain.org.