It takes Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone’s life.
In that time, the Nepalese doctor can make a small incision in his patient’s eye, remove the cloudy cataract impairing her vision and replace it with an inexpensive artificial lens.
“Some of our younger surgeons even do it faster than that,” Ruit told CNN. For many patients, it’s the first time they’ve seen in years, if not decades.
In the past 30 years, Ruit has personally restored the sight of more than 100,000 people across Asia and Africa, and taught his rapid-fire technique to countless other eye surgeons in parts of the world as isolated as North Korea. His patients suffer from eye conditions that are mostly preventable. But because of poverty and limited access to public health services they have been unable to seek treatment.
Their story is all too common in the developing world. An estimated 39 million people are blind worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Of these, around 90% live in low-income areas and 80% suffer from conditions that can be prevented or cured.
Reaching remote communities
Driven by a belief that the world’s poorest people deserve safe, affordable and high-quality eye care just as much as anyone else, Ruit has made it his mission to eradicate avoidable blindness.
In 1994, he joined the late Australian ophthalmologist and philanthropist Fred Hollows, who was his mentor and close friend, in establishing Tilganga — an eye hospital in Kathmandu dedicated to providing world-class eye care to the people of Nepal.
The hospital manufactures state-of-the-art lenses that are commonly used in treating cataracts or myopia, and exports them to more than 30 countries worldwide.
For those who cannot reach urban areas, Ruit and his team conduct mobile eye camps in remote parts of Nepal and neighboring countries, often trekking for days and cleaning out structures like tents, classrooms or even animal stables for use as temporary operating theaters.
When the eye patches come off the day after an operation, it’s an incredibly moving moment for all involved.
Australian photographer Michael Amendolia has been capturing these intimate scenes — the expressions of relief and tears of joy — while traveling with Ruit and his colleagues since the early 1990s.
To mark the 20th anniversary of Tilganga, Amendolia has released some of his most striking images of Ruit and his team at work in Nepal and other countries in the region, including Bhutan, China, Myanmar, North Korea and Indonesia.