Climate change impact on eye health in Zim

The highest burden of visual impairment is in low to medium income countries (LMIC) and they bear the biggest burden of climate change.

Global warming has led to progressive trends of extreme temperature and heat waves in Zimbabwe and across the world presenting a huge threat to global health including eye health.

The highest burden of visual impairment is in low to medium income countries (LMIC) and they bear the biggest burden of climate change.

This is because the countries are most likely to experience poor health and economic outcomes, low education outcomes and infrastructure degradation.

The eye is sensitive and susceptible to developing diseases because of environmental factors such as dry conditions and air pollution.

According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), climate change specifically impacts on eye health creating conditions that lead to infections, allergies and eye diseases. Therefore, it is important to note the association between common eye diseases and the environmental factors as the prevalence and severity of ocular diseases is increasing.

Climate affects the environmental determinants of good health which include, clean air, healthy food, safe drinking water and secure shelter.

Understanding the interface between eye diseases and climate will assist in combating the eye diseases and mitigating the environmental risks.

Climate change has disproportionately affected the poor and marginalised communities, and worsened inequities experienced in accessing eye health.

Evidence shows extreme temperatures have led to inflammatory corneal cells of the eye, viral conjunctivitis, dry eyes, allergies and other ocular diseases. Further it is estimated that at least 20% of cataract cases (a leading cause of avoidable blindness) are a result of ultraviolet (UV) radiation overexposure.

Cataract clouds the lens of the eye leading to vision impairment which can affect both eyes.

Trachoma a bacteria eye infection which can lead to blindness increases due to high temperatures, low rainfall, decreasing access to water and sanitation.

In addition, vitamin A deficiency is expected to rise because of food insecurity influenced by low rainfall patterns and flooding. The population may experience challenges in accessing vitamins and minerals essential for good eye health.

Nutrients deficiencies may lead to diabetes and eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the back of the eye leading to visual impairment or blindness.

Traffic related air pollution is linked to severe allergic eye diseases, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Glaucoma is an eye condition that damages the optic nerve which sends visual information from the eye to the brain.

Age-related macular degeneration is a chronic disease that causes central vision loss leading to difficulty in reading and seeing clearly. Extreme weather conditions have led to disasters which have resulted in physical injuries including eye injuries.

People with disabilities and visual impairment are more vulnerable and most affected in emergency situations. It is important to consider how eye care services can be provided in humanitarian situations considering that health facilities and the provision of eyecare services is disrupted, during disasters.

Therefore, the effects of climate change will worsen the poverty and access to eye care services, leading to an increase in the number of people with visual impairment or blindness while impeding progress towards the achievement of universal health coverage.

It is therefore imperative to educate and communicate on the risk of climate as it relates to the visual system.


In order to curtail the catastrophic onset of eye diseases, research should focus on assessing eye disease prevalence due to the climate crisis.

The research should measure the environmental costs associated with eye health and determine the sustainable practices.

Eye health interventions should consider the needs of the poor and marginalised groups and address the inequities experienced in accessing eye care services.

Immediate action should be taken to implement inclusive and sustainable services in high-risk environments to address eye conditions and reduce the vulnerability and impact of climate change.

Further climate related decision making should be inclusive of various sectors to understand the implications that climate has on health including eye health.

Literature shows that health care is a substantial contributor to global warming, estimated at 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and these are expected to rise.

Eye surgeries are a high-volume service that leave a significant amount of waste and high use of energy.

Therefore, it is important to reduce the environmental impact of eye health work by reducing waste and enhancing the efficiency of procedures.

Health professionals play a pivotal role in disease prevention, health promotion and education on climate resilient eye wear.

However, they need to be capacitated because addressing climate change is a long-term common effort that requires education and information sharing.

There are measures that society can take if they are made aware of the potential risks and these include, drinking plenty of water and staying in cool places during extreme heat, being aware and mitigating air pollution and consuming a healthy plant diet to mitigate eye diseases.

While experts are debating on the effects of global warming, one area that hasn’t received attention is the impact on eye health. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness and educate society on the interface between climate and eye health.

Addressing mitigation strategies to reduce climate change is imperative and this may include, the use of renewable resources, adopting energy efficiency measures and promoting smart agricultural practices among other measures.

Some of the adaptive measures to control climate change include implementing water saving measures and encouraging the efficient use of water and increasing the capacity to respond to climate related concerns.

The efforts towards climate action in Zimbabwe should take into account the necessary measures to address the risks associated with eye health.

The environment contributes to health and well-being in many ways, health systems can take measures to address climate change and build a more resilient society. The Lancet Global Health Commission on Global Eye Health (2021) emphasises the importance of promoting environmentally responsible eye health services that reduce carbon emissions and waste thereby contributing towards affordable clean energy (SDG7), responsible consumption (SDG12) and climate action (SDG13).

The goals are interlinked and provide an opportunity for the eye care sector to provide better eye care services and the wider effort to achieve these goals will promote a sustainable and safe environment.

  • Tigere is a development practitioner and writes in her personal capacity. These weekly New Horizon articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — [email protected] or mobile: +263 772 382 852.


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