We are thrilled to talk to one of the world's leading Ophthalmologists, Dr Sanduk Ruit for the November In The Spirit of Things Conversations.
Sanduk Ruit (Nepali: सन्दुक रूइत, pronounced [ˈsʌnduk rui̯t]) is an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) from Nepal who has restored the sight of over 130,000 people across Africa and Asia using small-incision cataract surgery. He is also one of the founders of the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology
For his work in taking quality, life-transforming cataract surgery to the poorest, he has been referred to as the "God of Sight".
In 1994, Ruit helped found the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology, which provides free treatment to those who cannot afford to pay. It manufactures high-quality intraocular lenses for surgery at a fraction of the price of its previous manufacturing cost. The extremely low cost of these lenses have made quality cataract surgeries affordable to the poorest population.
Ruit was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding, considered to be the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize, for "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."
In 2018, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Shri, its fourth highest civilian award, for “[his] innovation in the 1980s [that] led to a 90 percent reduction in the cost of cataract eye surgery, provides low-cost cataract surgery lenses to over thirty countries.”
His biography The Barefoot Surgeon, authored by Australian writer Ali Gripper, was published in June 2018.This biography's Nepali translation version 'Sanduk Ruit' was published by Fine Print Books in 2019.
Ruit was born on September 4, 1954, to rural, illiterate parents in the remote mountainous village Olangchunggola in the border with Tibet in Taplejung district of northeast Nepal. His village was a tiny cluster of 200 people, located 11,000 feet above the sea level, on the lap of the world's third-highest peak Mt. Kanchenjunga. It is one of the remotest regions of Nepal with no electricity, no school, no health facility, or modern means of communication, and lies blanketed under snow for six to nine months a year. Ruit's family made a subsistence living from small agriculture, petty trading and livestock farming.
Ruit was the second of his parents’ four children. But he lost his three siblings – elder brother to diarrhea at age three and younger sister Chundak to fever at age eight. In many interviews, Ruit has mentioned that for him, the most painful was his younger sister Yangla's death. Yangla was his childhood companion, and he was to develop a special bond with her over the years.
But she tragically died at a young age of 15 due to tuberculosis as the family was too poor to afford the best treatment available which could have saved her life. In many interviews, Ruit has said that this loss made a strong mark on him and instilled in him a resolve to become a doctor and work for the poor who would not otherwise have access to healthcare.
The nearest school from his village was eleven days' walk away in Darjeeling.
His father, a small-time businessman, placed a priority on providing education to his children, and sent Ruit to St Robert's School in Darjeeling, and provided financial support for his early medical career. In 1969, Ruit graduated from Siddhartha Vanasthali School in Kathmandu, Nepal, and later was further educated in India, He studied MBBS from King George's Medical College, Lucknow from 1972 to 1976, further studies from 1981 at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. He also studied in the Netherlands, Australia, and the United States, and was mentored by ophthalmologist Professor Fred Hollows.