“All over the world we are seeing the devastating effects of climate change on our environment and our health. Eye health is being affected by increasing trachoma infections, vitamin A deficiencies, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, allergic diseases and dry eyes.” Peter Holland, CEO IAPB
Environmental degradation, air pollution and climate change are having devastating effects in all parts of the world, with the greatest impact on vulnerable and low-income communities. Climate change is exacerbating poverty and health inequality and holding back the efforts of the global health community to make universal health coverage a reality.
Eye health is being affected. Early studies have shown that high temperatures and low rainfall – both negatively affected by climate change – are associated with an increase in trachoma infection. Vitamin A deficiency is expected to increase due to a likely increase in food insecurity due to the change in predictable rainfall patterns that cause both floods and droughts and affect crops. Global warming can contribute to the early onset and acceleration of cataracts due to the loss of the ozone layer and increased UV rays that affect the eye. Additionally, there is an association between traffic-related air pollution and severe allergic eye diseases, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration. Extreme weather events will lead to an increase in physical injuries, including eye injuries, and experience shows that people with visual impairments and disabilities are affected to a greater extent.
Climate change will alter the provision of eye health services. Hurricanes and cyclones around the world have caused the temporary closure or destruction of medical facilities and supply chains for essential medical supplies, such as medicines, surgical supplies, glasses and assistive devices. Climate change is expected to push already vulnerable populations into extreme poverty, further impeding their access to health services.
On the other hand, health is a great consumer of resources and a major emitter of greenhouse gases. Worldwide, health is responsible for 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) and 4.4% of all net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide.
The integration of climate and environmental strategies has important benefits for the health sector and its beneficiary population, since it improves health thanks to a higher level of health activity, reduces environmental pollution and reduces the adverse effects of climate change, which it entails an increase in productivity, an improvement in the quality of services and a reduction in costs.
Eyes of the world joins IAPB’s proposal to integrate environmental sustainability into strategies, projects and operations:
LEADERSHIP. Recognize the climate emergency and develop activities related to environmental sustainability, in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the Sustainable Development Goals.
For example: spreading promotional messages and strategies and training eye health staff and teams in the knowledge and dissemination of climate action messages. And also trying to create clean, ecological and welcoming eye health services for the benefit of professionals and patients.
SUSTAINABLE PURCHASING. Apply a sustainable purchasing policy or procedure, selecting products that have a lower impact on the environment, that consume less energy and water in their production and use, that use fewer harmful chemical substances and that integrate the principles of the circular economy (what occurs at the end of its useful life) in its acquisition process.
REDUCE THE USE OF FOSSIL FUELS. Maximize the use of renewable energy in offices and healthcare facilities and improve the energy efficiency of buildings and equipment, including lighting, air conditioning, and medical and office equipment.
WATER. Take into account water saving technology, such as used water recycling, and efficient water use equipment, ensuring that the water system is monitored to detect and repair any leaks.
REDUCE AND SAFELY REMOVE WASTE. Take into account the waste hierarchy “reduce, reuse, repair and recycle”. In the case of hazardous medical waste, choose the most appropiate and used safe disposal option in each territory.
REDUCE AND GREEN TRAVEL. Reduce the number of flights when possible, considering alternatives such as video conferencing; reduce the amount of patient travel through alternative models of care, such as telemedicine, and by strengthening the local eye health system; and promote active travel and public transportation for staff and patients, wherever possible.
FOLLOW THE FOUR PRINCIPLES OF SUSTAINABLE CLINICAL PRACTICE. Prevention, patient empowerment, provision of low-cost eye health services and use of medical procedures and technologies that have a lower environmental impact. It is intended to reduce the demand for eye health services, the cost of the provision and its environmental impact.
IMPLEMENT ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY IN EDUCATION. For example, integrating environmental sustainability into eye health education programmes in schools and offering resources on environmentally sustainable eye health on the website.
FOCUSING ON RESEARCH. Support research on sustainable eye health services to generate evidence for the promotion and practice of sustainable change.