HIGHLIGHTS

  • Born to a poor family in a remote mountain area of Nepal, Sanduk Ruit was educated in India through a scholarship, returning to Nepal as a government health officer. Learning from his mentor Dr. Fred Hollows the latest techniques in cataract microsurgery using implanted intraocular lenses, he introduced the new techniques in Nepal in 1988.
  • Ruit opened the Tilganga Eye Centre (TEC) in 1994, the hub of eye-care services which also manufactures extremely high-quality intraocular lenses for surgery for less than US $5.00 apiece.
  • His mobile eye camps have expanded to China, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and even to North Korea, where in June 2006 he and his team performed sight-restoring surgery on over 1,000 patients in six days.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his placing Nepal at the forefront of developing safe, effective, and economical procedures for cataract surgery, enabling the needlessly blind in even the poorest countries to see again.”

 CITATION

Cataracts, bane of the aging, are like clouds that gather over the eyes. They are the most common cause of blindness in Asia. In Nepal alone some half a million people are affected, the majority of whom live in remote areas where the curse of blindness is magnified by a harsh terrain and pervasive poverty. Yet, most of these people need not be blind at all, says Dr. Sanduk Ruit. Only the absence of medical care condemns them to darkness. Ruit, an eye surgeon and medical director of the Tilganga Eye Centre in Kathmandu, wants them to see again.

Sanduk Ruit was born in a mountain area of Nepal so poor and remote that the nearest school was eleven days away, by foot. Diligence brought him a scholarship to be educated in India. When he was seventeen, his older sister died of tuberculosis and this painful loss led him to medicine. Upon completing medical school in India, he returned to Nepal as a government health officer. Following an assignment with the WHO Nepal Blindness Survey in 1980, he completed a residency in ophthalmology. Later, in Australia, he learned from his friend and mentor Dr. Fred Hollows the latest techniques in cataract microsurgery using implanted intraocular lenses. By 1988, he was introducing the new techniques in Nepal.

There, Ruit faced the resistance of local eye surgeons. He patiently taught them the new procedures and began to win converts. With backing from the Nepal Eye Program Australia, he began trekking to Nepal’s far-flung towns to conduct eye camps, on-the-spot surgeries in which he almost instantly restored the sight of grateful country folk, hundreds at a time. While doing so, Ruit devised techniques to achieve hospital-quality standards of precision and sterility under makeshift conditions. These included his now-famous suture-less procedure that speeds cataract surgery and reduces patients’ recovery time.

Ruit opened the Tilganga Eye Centre (TEC) in 1994. It has become the hub of an ambitious expansion of eye-care services. In partnership with the Himalayan Cataract Project, TEC today manages six regional primary eye-care centers in Nepal. It operates Nepal’s only successful eye bank. It trains eye-care paramedics, medical residents, and nurses as well as visiting surgeons from Asia, North America, Europe, and Australia who come to learn Dr. Ruit’s techniques. It also manufactures extremely high-quality intraocular lenses for surgery and makes these once exorbitant implants-nearly 1.5 million of them so far-available to needy recipients in some fifty countries for less than US $5.00 apiece. Meanwhile, the Centre treats three thousand patients a week and has performed more than ninety thousand operations since its inception. Surgery at TEC is inexpensive and prorated according to ability to pay; the poor pay nothing at all.

Today, Ruit’s mobile eye camps have expanded to China, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and even to North Korea, where in June 2006 he and his team performed sight-restoring surgery on over 1,000 patients in six days.

More than five hundred surgeons across Asia have now learned Dr. Ruit’s path-breaking techniques. “We Nepalese have never been known to give anything to other parts of the world,” he says. “I feel proud that we have given this expertise to many countries.”

The good doctor Ruit is famous for his stamina at the operating table and can perform one hundred surgeries in a single day. At fifty-one, he remains inspired by the joyful satisfaction of giving the gift of sight, especially to the poor.

“Everyone deserves good vision,” he says. “There can be no children of a lesser god.”

In electing Sanduk Ruit to receive the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding, the board of trustees recognizes his placing Nepal at the forefront of developing safe, effective, and economical procedures for cataract surgery, enabling the needlessly blind in even the poorest countries to see again.

 RESPONSE

The Honorable Chief Justice, Chairman and Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, fellow Awardees and dear friends.

I would like to express my heart-felt gratitude to the Trustees of the Foundation for selecting me as the winner of the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Award for peace and international understanding.

I am extremely excited and humbled by this honour given to me.

On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of blinded cataract patients for whom I have played a small part in restoring their sight and giving them dignity in their lives, I accept this prestigious Award.

Cataract continues to be the most common cause of blindness worldwide. It is estimated that nearly eighty million people are blind with cataract, and 90% of cataracts are found in the developing world. For nearly twenty years now, we have been working to provide a successful model of high-volume cataract surgery with a good vision outcome to be made available and accessible to the developing world. This required continuing innovations both in eye service management and eye surgery.

Extensive research and development was done to produce low-cost and robust equipment, such as portable operating microscopes and YAG lasers. We have been successful in manufacturing state-of-the-art intra-ocular lenses locally for a unit cost of US$4, which was available elsewhere for US$100. The logistics, economics and efficiency of cataract surgery in its entirety was addressed to suit the large backlog of cataract blindness in poorer countries.

Since then, this system has been introduced successfully to many countries crossing geographical and political boundaries. The training of surgeons, the establishment of eye centres and the conduct of model workshops have now spread to more than fifty countries globally.

I once again would like to thank the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, as this Award will certainly give me more credibility and challenge me to continue my unfinished agenda. I would also like to acknowledge the support of that most wonderful group of people whom I work with at the Tilganga Eye Centre in Nepal, and our partners, the Fred Hollows Foundation and the Himalayan Cataract Project.

 BIOGRAPHY

Raised in a poor and isolated village in the highlands of eastern Nepal, Sanduk Ruit has journeyed far to become a highly skilled eye surgeon with a reputation that extends well beyond his own country. In another, more important sense, however, he has stayed close to home. He has tirelessly worked among his people, forsaking the opportunity to pursue a lucrative practice elsewhere. Even more important, he has dedicated himself wholly to building a remarkable ophthalmologic institution, the Tilganga Eye Centre, which has demonstrated that the best medical service need not exclude the poor in the less developed parts of the world.

It is a remarkable achievement. In one of the world’s poorest countries, Sanduk Ruit has built for the world a successful model for scientifically advanced, socially responsive medical care.

SANDUK Ruit was born on September 4, 1954 in the tiny, remote village of Olanchungola in the district of Taplejung in northeast Nepal. Located at an elevation of eleven thousand feet in the foothills of the world’s third highest mountain, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Olangchungola is a study in ironic contrast. It is in one of Nepal’s most beautiful areas because of the stunning Himalayan landscape, its high mountain lakes, dense forest of rhododendron, oak, and pine, and diverse wildlife. Yet Olangchungola is a poor, neglected village. At the time Ruit was growing up, the villagers subsisted on very little agriculture, small-scale livestock raising (mostly yaks and goats), and petty trading. The village had no electricity, and the nearest school was some eleven days’ walk away. People lived in little wood-and-mud dwellings, huddled in the snowy cold that blanketed the village for eight to nine months in a year.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)