Imran Khan is an expert in public health (MPH from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), business administration, optometry, and healthcare with over 20 years’ experience in international health and development settings and academia.

Based in Washington, D.C., he leads Sightsavers’ strategy and programme development, which often takes him both to the UK (where the inspiring organisation with which Eyes of the world shares a vision is based) and to the field (where the teams Imran leads with perseverance and proven expertise are based). Recently, however, he has significantly reduced his travel in response to changes introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic and, more importantly, because of his belief in reducing his carbon footprint; and he is proud to be able to lead multinational teams thanks to new online working tools.

Imran also co-chairs the IAPB Climate Action Work Group with Mitasha Yu. This recently established task force has already achieved significant successes, such as drafting a Call to Action document and its implementation guide, which includes a series of activities to address climate change from an eye health perspective.

We would like to thank Imran for his intervention at the meeting organised by Eyes of the world in May 2023, which brought together professionals from headquarters, territorial delegations, and field teams to make progress on the strategy and management plan that the Foundation is working on to respond to one of the major determinants of health, including eye health, such as the environment.

Why do you think it is important to consider the environment when working on the right to sight? How can we move towards environmental improvement in contexts where reality forces us to prioritise urgent needs related to extreme poverty?

We are all increasingly aware of the negative effects that climate change is having on all aspects of life on earth. And this extends to health.  The climate crisis is threatening to reverse progress in health progress and poverty reduction and has the greatest effect on marginalized communities in developing countries including women and girls and people with disabilities. From an eye health perspective, the progress and severity of ocular conditions are likely to worsen due to climate change, including trachoma, cataract, and vitamin A deficiency. At the same time, climate related disasters, like 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 both in terms of recognizing the potential negative effects that our work may have on the environment, and how we can adapt our programmes to make them more resilient to negative effects of climate change.

What is the IAPB’s current role in this movement toward environmental care? What else do you think the Climate Action Work Group can contribute to environmental sustainability?

The IAPB, through the climate action working group, has led the eye health sector in declaring a climate emergency, issuing a call to action and guidance for the organizations working in eye care to recognize and prioritize climate action. The working groups aims to build awareness, provide guidance and share best practices among the eye health sector. While the working group has been successful in building awareness, the emphasis now is to support with technical guidance and practical tools on how to operationalize environmentally sustainable eye care practices.

That health care is responsible for 4.4% of global emissions is a frightening statistic. What do we need to do to reduce the impact of our contribution to climate change? What are the most straightforward challenges?

The first step is to acknowledge the effect that our work has on global emissions and take steps to reduce this. International travel accounts for most global emissions resulting from international NGOs’ work. Therefore, you can reduce flying through alternatives like video conferencing and using local teams. 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 (like solar) for energy for eye care facilities and using energy efficient equipment. The main challenges are that we work in some of the least developed areas where alternative sources of energy and local suppliers may not be present.

On the other hand, how can we create programmes that can adapt to adverse climatic situations?

As we are already seeing the negative effects of climate change on our programmes, we must build in greater climate resilience from the onset. One way to do this is to better understand the local climate risks in the communities we work in, by working with the local communities to identify both risks and adaptations. One way to address both mitigation and adaptation strategies is to prioritize providing eye care services closer to the communities, this both reduces emissions resulting from travel to secondary or tertiary eye hospitals in cities, and are less likely to be disrupted due to a climate disaster.

What do you think we need to explain to partners and funders to make them understand the importance of considering and implementing environmental measures in ophthalmic cooperation projects?

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. We must account for this when designing and implementing projects, both in terms of lessening the negative effects that our work may have on the environment and to make the projects more resilient to the negative consequences of climate change. And partners and funders need to be made aware of the need, the challenges, and what steps we are taking to promote environmental sustainability.

What advice would you give to all of us who are professionally or voluntarily involved with Eyes of the world?

Within every challenge there is opportunity to improve the ways of working. It is great that Eyes of the world has taken steps to prioritize climate action throughout its work. We can continue to strengthen our work in environmental sustainability by considering climate action in every aspect of our projects. A starting point is to operationalize the ten key areas of action from the IABP Call to Action work, and then share the learning and approaches across the sector so other organizations can learn from your example to improve their own work in this area.