We’d like to start this story by asking you this. Why do certain people inspire you more than others? After much pondering and deliberation, we came to the conclusion that for us, it boiled down to one unwavering common trait – focus. Which is why Dr. Sanduk Ruit, and his resolute focus on eradicating avoidable blindness, is the latest Unsung Hero to make our humble hall of fame.
From tragedy rises hope
Sanduk Ruit was born in 1954 in the remote village of Olanchungola in Nepal’s Taplejung district. Growing up in a mountainous village with no electricity or health facilities, and where the nearest school was over a week’s walk away, sealed the fate of the 200 odd inhabitants of the village to poverty, illiteracy and early mortality. The second of six children, Sanduk had lost three of his siblings by the time he was 17. His elder brother succumbed to diarrhoea at the age of three, his sister to fever at the age of eight and his closest sister to tuberculosis at the age of 15. This last tragic loss hit him the hardest and it was on her death bed that he vowed to study medicine so that he could help save the lives of those who couldn’t afford treatment for curable diseases.
Where there’s a will there’s a way
Despite their humble means, Sanduk’s father was determined to give his son the education he never had. After working diligently despite being the target of bullying while at St. Robert’s School in Darjeeling, Sanduk’s personal focus paid off when he received a scholarship through the Colombo Plan which ultimately led him to graduating in 1978 with a degree from King George’s Medical University in Lucknow.
Two men with one vision
In 1985, while working on the Nepal Blindness Survey, Dr. Sanduk Ruit met Dr. Fred Hallows, an Australian Ophthalmologist who would become a dear friend and mentor. Both men shared the same noble vision, to bring affordable eyecare and surgery to the people who needed it the most. Together they founded the Nepal Eye Program Australia, which joined The Fred Hollows Foundation in 1992, and helped fund and establish the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Kathmandu in 1994.
The God of Sight
With the establishment of the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology, the poorest people of Nepal began to reap the fruits of Dr. Ruit’s labour thanks to free eyecare. A year after the centre opened its doors, Dr. Ruit developed high-quality intraocular lenses for cataract patients that cost just $5 to produce, just to give you an idea of how incredible that feat is, it costs $200 in some parts of the world! His pioneering technique of small incision low-cost cataract surgery has helped restore the sight of more than 120,000 people to this day in Nepal and other developing Asian and African countries.
A never-ending ripple
Thanks to Dr. Ruit’s efforts, blindness has decreased to 0.3% amongst Nepal’s 29 million population. It has become the first country in South Asia to eliminate Trachoma, the leading bacterial infectious cause of blindness in the world. The Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology is now a training destination for surgeons from around the globe, who hope to establish its methods in other developing countries. Mobile eye camps are able to reach isolated rural villages and not-for-profit eyecare centres have opened up in all 77 districts of the nation.
The Barefoot Surgeon
Never losing sight of what mattered, Dr. Ruit is still the determined and humble Sanduk we met at the beginning of this story. His patients and peers admire him for his kindness and humility, despite being an award-winning and globally celebrated doctor. He still stands by his promise to extend and enrich the lives of the less fortunate by not only giving them back their sight, but a new lease of life. What we need in the world is more people like Dr. Sanduk Ruit who inspire us to pick a cause and stick to it no matter what in order to better the lives of those around us.
To find out more about Dr. Sanduk Ruit and his institute’s incredible achievements, visit https://tilganga.org or read his biography The Barefoot Surgeon by Ali Gripper.