Dr Sanduk Ruit is a Nepali ophthalmologist who is literally working on a war footing against blindness.
Over the last 30 years, his treatment has helped restore sight to more than one lakh people in Asia.
That in itself is a historic achievement. WHO reveals that 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide, of which 90% live in developing economies such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, etc.
He treats patients with cataracts using a method that takes just 5 minutes and helps a patient see from the next day after surgery.
In just five minutes, the doctor makes a small incision in his patient’s eye, removes the cataract, and replaces it with an inexpensive artificial lens.
The 60-yr-old doctor’s pioneering microsurgery is so effective that it is now being taught in US medical colleges.
He has restored sight in eyes that have been blind for 30 or 40 years.
He did his schooling on scholarship from St. Robert’s School in Darjeeling and completed his medical education from AIIMS in New Delhi.
In 1994, he founded the Tilganga Eye Centre (now Institute of Ophthalmology) in Kathmandu.
It now has hospitals, outreach clinics and training programs and an eye bank. The hospital charges only those patients who are better-off. That money helps meet the expenses incurred on impoverished patients which can be upto INR 12,000.
The cost is very low because of a revolutionary innovation done by the doctor himself: a tiny lens costing just INR 180. The same kind of lens comes at a price of INR 12,000 in the West.
The new corneal tissue is of a quality higher than those available to patients in the US.
The intra-ocular implant developed by Dr Ruit is now available in around 50 countries.
People from all over Nepal flock to the hospital or any of the countless camps organised by Tilganga all over the country.
Over 3000 patients are treated every week at the hospital alone.
It was Dr Ruit and his associates who in 1997 convinced Pashupatinath Temple priests to allow them to procure tissues for the eye bank from the dead.
By 1999, the Nepal Eye Bank had collected five times the number of corneas, while the number of corneas distributed in Nepal had tripled. Tilganga Eye Hospital had performed more than double the number of corneal transplantations.
He has been assisted ably by Shankar Narayan Twyana, Director, Nepal Eye Bank.
The doctor also visits patients in neighbouring India, where camps have been organised in the most inhospitable places such as Leh.
Such is Dr Ruit’s international fame that he even treated patients in North Korea – a country no one dares step in.
It was only after he successfully treated a North Korean diplomat at the embassy in Kathmandu that he was able to persuade the North Korean authorities to allow his team to conduct the 2006 surgery and training session in the south-eastern city of Haeju.
He has treated people in Malaysia and Indonesia, too. Most of his work is in developing countries, where they cannot afford costly cataract surgery.
Tibet, Bhutan, and Burma are other such countries where the doctor has been treating patients. Some 5,000 doctors from around the world have learnt Dr Ruit’s procedure of treating cataract and curing blindness.
With US ophthalmologist Dr Geoffrey Tabin, Dr Ruit co-founded the Himalayan Cataract Project or Cure Blindness.
The project has been a tremendous success since they focus on training doctors in home countries with the method perfected by Dr Ruit.
Ruit was born in a very remote village in Nepal. Due to the lack of health facilities, he lost his sister to tuberculosis when he was 17.
That was what pushed him into medicine.
It was his meeting with the legendary Australian-Kiwi eye surgeon Fred Hollows that turned him into what he is today.
Hollows became Ruit’s mentor. From Hollows the Nepali doctor developed the conviction that people in developing countries deserve access to the same quality of care and technology as people in the developed world.
Dr Ruit has been conferred with many awards and honours including the 2006 Ramon Magsasay and 2010 Ujjwol Kirtimaya Rastra Deep Award.
When asked what motivates him to do what he is doing, he says:
And just in case you want to see how he and his team operate, organise camps by traversing difficult terrains and bring smiles to faces, watch this video.
Cure Blindness has already started gifting the power of sight to people in Ethiopia and Ghana.