How Climate Change Thwarts Pharmaceutical Aid

In the global conversation about climate change, the focus often revolves around visible effects: rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and melting ice caps. However, there’s another, less discussed consequence of climate change that’s just as significant: its impact on human health, including eye health. 

The changing climate has a profound and direct impact on eyesight, ranging from increased exposure to UV radiation to the spread of infectious diseases, like Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Yet, even more complex, is the way climate change impacts our ability to reach marginalized populations with pharmaceutical aid and eye healthcare. 

The Organization for the Prevention of Blindness’ (OPC) work in Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Senegal, Mali, Madagascar, and Chad is threatened by climate change’s bearing on local communities. Not only can it thwart our mass prescription drug delivery and distribution, but it also challenges eye care infrastructure and services.


The Wider Lens on Climate Change and Health

The pervasive impact of climate change extends far beyond environmental degradation, presenting a multi-dimensional threat to global health. It undermines the determinants of health – such as clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, secure shelter – and increases the exposure to hazards. Scientific advancements are progressively enabling us to attribute an increase in morbidity and mortality directly to climate change, offering a clearer understanding of its impacts on health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) underscores the gravity of the situation, revealing that climate stressors not only heighten the risk of waterborne and foodborne diseases but also exacerbate the spread of vector-borne diseases. These challenges are magnified in regions already struggling with inadequate health infrastructure, making them ill-equipped to cope without international aid and intervention. This reality poses a formidable challenge to our mission at OPC, especially in countries where we work like Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Senegal, Mali, Madagascar, and Chad.


Navigating Climate Change for Eye Health

For nearly 50 years, OPC has established itself as logistical and medical experts in the journey that medicine makes from giant pharmaceutical to underserved Francophone African communities. These medications are a critical piece of the puzzle in controlling and eliminating the NTDs that cause partial or complete blindness and other life-changing effects. 

Yet, even as leaders in the field, we face unexpected and unforeseen challenges that threaten the safe storage and transportation of prescription drugs. 

Navigating the logistics of reaching remote or isolated areas is already a formidable task. Extreme weather conditions such as heavy rainfall, monsoons, rising temperatures, or wildfires in areas of limited infrastructure create even more obstacles to getting pharmaceutical aid to those who need it most. The increasing scale, frequency, and intensity of extreme weather conditions pose unprecedented challenges to the safe storage and transportation of medications. 

This, however, is only the first layer of challenges caused by climate change. 

In Central Africa, which already faces other crises, (including the countries we serve: Chad, the Central African Republic, and Congo), environmental shocks can cause high rates of poverty, political instability, local land competition, and the spread of disease. Environmental extremes intensify existing crises, with research by the WHO indicating that 3.6 billion people live in areas highly vulnerable to climate change. These are often the same areas where infrastructure is most lacking and where the health impacts of climate change, including undernutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress, are expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050.

Malnutrition, due to food insecurity, primes the body for greater risk of infection. The throttling of disease transmission puts a heavy strain on medical systems, including our pharmaceutical deliveries and eye healthcare. In areas where health infrastructure is already weakened complications or challenges can set back progress. This is especially true in countries whose eye healthcare systems are still in development by OPC.

Coastal and island areas such as Senegal, Madagascar, and Congo struggle with mass land erosion from increased rainfall and rising tides, causing thousands to be displaced. According to Groundswell Africa: Internal Climate Migration in West African Countries, it is estimated that up to 32 million people, in West Africa alone, could be forced to migrate by 2050 due to the effects of the climate crisis.

Furthermore, the climate crisis casts a long shadow over regional stability, with its impacts felt in areas like the Lake Chad region. Competition over dwindling natural resources, such as water and arable land, can escalate tensions and lead to violence. When climate change exacerbates existing conflicts or contributes to the emergence of new ones, transportation can quickly become dangerous to maneuver. In areas like the Lake Chad region escalating crisis magnifies existing tensions over access to and distribution of natural resources, leading to intensified migratory flows and conflicts. This burgeoning crisis not only threatens the delicate balance of the ecosystem but also hampers the efforts of NGOs, including OPC, in delivering crucial healthcare services. The predicament in the Lake Chad region serves as a stark example of how climate change-induced challenges are already shaping the landscape of humanitarian aid and access to care. As the situation continues to deteriorate, it is the local populations and the capability of organizations like ours to reach those in need that are most immediately at risk. These evolving dynamics underscore the urgency of addressing the climate crisis not just as an environmental issue, but as a critical humanitarian concern that directly influences our mission’s success and the health and well-being of the communities we strive to serve.


The Bottom Line about Climate Change

What once was a worst-case scenario has become reality. OPC is dedicated to overcoming every obstacle to ensure the right to sight. To do so, we rely on partners like you to help power our mission. The expanded view of climate change’s impact on global health underscores the urgency of our work and the need for a comprehensive response. By addressing these challenges head-on, with a focus on sustainable practices and resilience-building, we can mitigate the effects of climate change and safeguard the health and well-being of the most vulnerable communities we serve.