On behalf of the Himalayan Cataract Project, we have the honor of nominating Dr. Sanduk Ruit for the IAPB Vision Excellence Award. Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology founder and visionary, Ophthalmologist Dr. Ruit, grew up in a remote mountain village in Eastern Nepal with little access to healthcare or schools. After experiencing the loss of his sister to tuberculosis at an early age, he dedicated himself to medical science, seeking educational opportunities in neighboring India, a several weeks’ journey by foot. Dr. Ruit eventually graduated at the top of his class at All India Medical College and pursued an ophthalmic fellowship in Australia, where he was introduced to a remarkable procedure to reverse cataract blindness. With this inspiration, he returned to Nepal, and in 1992, Dr. Ruit founded Tilganga eye clinic in Kathmandu, intent on providing access in his home country to the same high-quality care he had experienced abroad (at the time, Nepal had one of the highest rates of blindness in the world).
Dr. Ruit expanded his clinic from restoring sight for 75 patients/week to what has become the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology, Nepal’s national Center of Excellence, treating up to 1500 patients a day and training hundreds of surgeons, ophthalmic nurses and bio-engineers from over 43 countries to tackle the elimination of needless cataract blindness on a global scale. Tilganga’s 15 primary eye centers now allow practitioners to reach vulnerable populations across the country and its master trainers are among the finest in the world.
The Associated Press has heralded Sanduk Ruit as the “God of Sight” to the world’s poor. Journalist, Nicholas Kristof has concurred, noting that Dr. Ruit “has restored eyesight to more than 100,000 people, perhaps more than any doctor in history.” Ruit revolutionized the economics of cataract delivery in developing countries. He implemented a system of ‘compassionate capitalism’, where revenues from those who can pay, fund surgery for the poor. He also started an intraocular lens factory in Kathmandu — lowering the lens implant cost from $200 to $4 through local production vs. expensive importation. The result is a sustainable eyecare model in Nepal using high-volume surgery and maximized human resources, where clinical salaries are competitive and the care is world-class. Tilganga delivers top Western-quality care for literally 1% of what it costs in the Western medical system.
Dr. Ruit has worked tirelessly to promote “A world in which nobody is needlessly visually impaired, where those with unavoidable vision loss can achieve their full potential.”