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Dr. Ruit (above) and Dr. Tabin (below) come from different backgrounds, yet they share a deeply seated passion and commitment toward the same life’s work.

History

The Himalayan Cataract Project was co-founded by doctors Sanduk Ruit and Geoff Tabin. Its roots are based at the Tilganga Eye Centre in Kathmandu, Nepal, the first outpatient cataract surgery facility in the Himalayan region established in 1994 by Dr. Ruit. Dr. Ruit and Dr. Tabin formally started the Himalayan Cataract Project in 1995 as a charitable organization to support their work.

Since 1994:

  • More than 100 doctors have been trained in modern cataract surgery.
  • More than 100 ophthalmic assistants and nurses have been trained.

On a yearly basis:

  • More than 200,000 patients are screened.
  • Between 12,000 and 15,000 cataract surgeries are performed.

Recognizing that cataracts are treatable and cause 70% of unnecessary blindness in Nepal galvanized HCP’s founders, doctors Ruit and Tabin, to take action. Unkown to them at the time were a series of significant challenges they faced in their quest to eradicate blindness. Each challenge led to the furtherance of HCP’s core innovation.

Doctors Ruit and Tabin have been teaching their cataract surgery technique at ophthalmology meetings throughout the world, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology Annual Meeting, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons annual meetings and the World Ophthalmology Congress.

Initial Hurdles

HCP’s and Tilganga’s initial hurdles in the 1990’s were many. The three major challenges included:

  • Convincing the medical community that the care at outreach eye camps in rural settings was equivalent to hospital-based care.
  • Implementing a cost recovery system whereby paying patients subsidized cataract care for the poor.
  • Making high-quality intraocular lenses affordable.

In 1993, 15,000 cataract surgeries were performed in Nepal, of which only 1,000 utilized intraocular lenses. Most of these 1,000 surgeries were performed by Dr. Sanduk Ruit who brought microsurgery using intraocular lens technology to the region. Before then, cataract surgery consisted of intracapsular cataract extraction, in which the entire lens and capsule were removed from the eye and the patient was given cumbersome thick eyeglasses that lacked peripheral vision and created distorted direct vision.

When Dr. Sanduk Ruit started out in the early 1990’s, an intraocular lens cost approximately $100. This made them unaffordable to the poor. Dr. Ruit carried out research that led him to learn that the raw material needed to make each lens cost 60 cents (USD) and that the manufacturing companies were making huge profits.

By 1995, Dr. Ruit established a lens factory in Nepal with The Fred Hollows Foundation capable of manufacturing high quality lenses at a fraction of the cost. The lens factory now produces over 300,000 units of high-quality intraocular lenses annually. These lenses are  are exported to over 60 countries. The year 1996 led to the full-scale start of sutureless cataract surgery.

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Early Challenges

Dr. Sanduk Ruit’s words as he reminisced about his first days of struggle: “When you are right no one can prove you wrong …. I took proving myself right as a challenge and I succeeded."