Cataract, a clouding of the lens in the eye leading to a decrease in vision, develop slowly and can affect either one or both eyes. The symptoms–blurry vision, faded colours, halos around lights, trouble with bright lights and night-vision, are often overlooked before it is too late. India has a large number of the elderly suffering from this degenerative disease. They don’t often get sufficient care, and the inhibitive cost of cataract surgery means they suffer silently. Well, this ophthalmologist, Dr Sanduk Ruit, is the saviour of those who suffer from cataracts.
His story, like many others, has humble beginnings. He was born in 1955 to uneducated parents, in the far-flung Olangchung Gola Pass in the Taplejung District, northeast Nepal. It took 11 days to walk to the nearest school. The young boy’s father sent him to St Robert’s School, in Darjeeling, where Dr Ruit was motivated to practice medicine after losing his sister to tuberculosis.
After completing school, Dr Sanduk Ruit started his medical education at the King George’s Medical College, Lucknow, and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi.
It was in Australia, in 1986, that Dr Ruit and Fred Hollows, an Australian ophthalmologist, were working on a strategy to bring small-incision cataract surgery to developing nations. Their method advocated using inexpensive intraocular lenses. However, the lenses remained costly, but the doctor persevered, and in 1995, developed a new intraocular lens that could be made for cheap, and as of 2010, was being used in over 60 nations. The method is economical is now being taught in U.S medical schools, as it has the same success rate as western techniques-around 98% at six months.
Dr Ruit, then embarked on a mission–to cure cataracts or those who couldn’t afford treatment. It isn’t a surprise that the Press Information Bureau of India tweeted that he has gifted vision to more than one lakh people, through low-cost cataract surgery.
Dr Ruit exports low-cost cataract surgery lenses to more than 30 nations worldwide. He treats around 2,500 people every week, waiving off the fees for those who can’t afford it.
Dr Ruit is famous for establishing the Tilganga Eye Hospital in Kathmandu. The hospital is state-of-the-art, providing world-class eye care to the people of Nepal. For those who cannot reach the hospital, Dr Ruit and his team conduct mobile camps in remote parts of Nepal. Using tents, classrooms or even animal stables isn’t strange to this doctor who improvises, depending on the situation.
His methods are noteworthy, especially for patients who have lost vision in both eyes and require constant care. This quick-healing surgery helps them get back instead of being a burden on their families. This treatment method has spread like wildfire, with Dr Ruit visiting Africa, North Korea, Bhutan, Indonesia, Myanmar and rural China.
Accolades aren’t new for the unassuming doctor, who has won the prestigious Roman Magasaysay Award in 2006. It is all due to the effort of bringing down the cost of intraocular lenses, from the staggering US $100, to the affordable US $3. Additionally, he has conducted free eye camps for surgeries in developing countries worldwide.
Thus, it only fits that among the 15,700 people nominated for the Padma Shri awards, Dr Sanduk Ruit was selected. He is truly a game-changer in restoring the vision of the poor, through his innovative low-cost cataract surgery.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)