PICS: MICHEL AMENDOLIA
When Sanduk Ruit, a young doctor from Olangchungola village in the remote mountains of north-eastern Nepal met Fred Hollows, an Australian ophthalmologist, in the 1980s, they had no idea they would radically transform eye care in the country and make it possible for thousands of Nepalis to see again.
While travelling together in 1981 for the National Blindness Survey, Hollows and Ruit were appalled to discover that 80 per cent of Nepalis suffered from blindness that was curable or easily preventable. With most Nepalis living in remote areas, access to hospitals was difficult and travelling to cities was simply too expensive. So they left diseases like cataract, trachoma, and glaucoma untreated which eventually led them to lose their sight.
The two doctors made it their mission to bring the highest standard of eye care to people living in the poorest and hardest to reach corners of Nepal. In 1988 Ruit and Hollows' wife Gabi started an Australian support group called the Nepal Eye Program Australia to raise funds. After Hollows was diagnosed with cancer, he along with Gabi and friends started the Fred Hollows Foundation so that they could carry on his vision even after his death.
Following in his mentor's footsteps, Ruit opened the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology (TIO) in Kathmandu in 1994 to provide affordable eye care to the poorest and pioneered the modern cataract surgery where only the clouded lens are removed and an intraocular lens implanted into the natural capsule. However, to succeed in his fight against cataract blindness, Ruit needed lenses at more affordable prices.
At that time, a lens cost $150, which was out of the budget of ordinary Nepalis. That is where the foundation stepped in and started a modern intraocular lens (IOL) manufacturing laboratory in Kathmandu which produced lenses at $4 apiece. Since then, the IOL which is now run by an all-Nepali team has produced three million lenses and exported them to more than 75 countries around the globe.
Although Hollows didn't live to see the good work done by his organisation and TOI, he was fondly remembered during the foundation's 20th anniversary celebrations at the Siddhartha Art Gallery in October.
In addition to providing inexpensive treatment and high quality care, Tilganga has made a name for itself as a top research and training institute. Training is an integral part of TOI's motto and nurses here are taught to take greater responsibility in preparing patients for surgery.
Keeping true to its aim of bringing eye care closer to Nepalis, doctors from Tilganga frequently travel to remote areas for microsurgical eye camps and have performed thousands of cataract operations. They also train health workers to run eye care centres more efficiently and reach out to more patients. In a country where people are highly reluctant to donate organs of family members due to religious beliefs, Tilganga's eye bank has been working relentlessly to raise awareness and encourage more Nepalis to donate and give someone else the gift of sight.
In two decades, Tilganga and the Fred Hollows Foundation have bought about outstanding innovations in eye care. And by providing Nepalis living in remote communities with access to excellent services, they are inching closer to their dream of ending preventable blindness in the country.
In the dark, MINA SHARMA
The lack of curriculum in braille means that the future of blind students remains bleak
The vision thing
An eye for an eye, NARESH NEWAR
A unique eye centre is giving thousands of Nepalis the gift of sight, and exporting artificial lenses to the world
Nepal's visionary eye care
Unnoticed, Nepal has emerged as a model for low cost, reliable world-class blindness prevention care in the world.