90% of the world’s blind and visually impaired live in low-income countries, where cataracts are the leading cause of needless blindness.
Despite the fact that cataracts can be cured via a surgical technique which lasts only seven minutes, and costs as little as USD 50, a majority of the world’s cataract blind continue to be needlessly blind because they cannot afford or access surgery.
In 2021, Dr Sanduk Ruit and Mr Tej Kohli, who have both long dreamed of ending needless blindness in the world’s poorest communities, formed the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation with a mission to screen one million and to cure 300,000 – 500,000 of blindness by 2030.
In its first year, the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation was able to successfully screen 128,094 patients, and cure 13,659 of cataract blindness.
In March, 2022, the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation, in collaboration with the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology staged a cataract microsurgical workshop in Doramba, Nepal, which would turn out to be one of the biggest outreach camps held in the hilly districts of Nepal. 333 patients, all living a life with a visual-impairment, of which nine were completely blind, went home with restored sight in the presence of co-founders Dr Sanduk Ruit, Nepal’s God of Sight, and Tej Kohli, a philanthropist who believes that investment in sight restoration is the most effective way to combat extreme poverty.
Although the microsurgical camp was held on the 18th, 19th and 20th of March, preparations for the ‘mega camp’, which is now being labeled as the “Doramba Model”, were underway from as early as February. The Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation dispatched a medical team to screen patients from almost all corners of the district. A total of 16 screening camps across the hills surrounding Doramba were organized, and the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation screened 3,251 patients of which 333 patients were identified in need of cataract surgery, and were subsequently invited for free surgery in Doramba.
On the 17th, buses packed with patients suffering from cataract blindness along with their caretakers began arriving at the camp. Amongst them were Krishna Bahadur Majhi, Putali Basel, Maichang Tamang, Charke Thami, Jagat Bahadur Tamang, Min Bahadur Tamang, and Lopsang Tamang, who were living with bilateral cataracts, and were completely blind. With little means to afford surgery, and the closest eye centre with an operating facility being almost a day’s drive away, the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation microsurgical camp in Doramba was the closest opportunity they could avail to cure their blindness. Meanwhile, the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation began setting up its makeshift operating theatre in a classroom inside a local school.
On the morning of the 18th, surgeries duly began. Patients were ushered into the operating theatre consistently as Dr Sanduk Ruit and Dr Sagar Ruit performed surgery after surgery via the small-incision cataract surgical method. Dr. Ruit, who has performed over 130,000 cataract surgeries across his career, performed his seven-minute miracles with great precision. On the first day, the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation performed 141 surgeries.
On the second day of the microsurgical camp Tej Kohli visited the microsurgical camp in Doramba to witness the miracles for himself, and to take stock of the impact that his interventions have been making in improving communities and changing lives.
In the small operating theatre, he watched Dr Ruit remove both cataracts from Krishna Bahadur Majhi and Putali Basel’s eyes. “Nothing short of miraculous”, Mr Kohli shared with Dr Ruit as the two founders shared a hug outside the operating theatre.
“Dependency as the unaccounted cost of blindness”: Read Putali Basel’s story of freedom from blindness here
The next day, the final day of the camp, Dr Ruit and Mr Kohli collectively removed the patches off each of the 333 patients gathered at the camp. Krishna was stunned to be seeing again, and when he finally came in term with his emotions, his first visual observation was how much weight his wife had lost. “The toll of taking care of me, and our financial stress must have caused her to lose weight”, he remarked.
“For two years, she has taken care of you. Now it is your turn to take care of her”, Mr Kohli shared with Majhi, to which he agreed.
The truest and the purest emotions of the camp were perhaps after Dr Ruit and Mr Kohli removed the patches off Maichang Tamang’s eyes. Her son, who had been with her during the entirety of the camp, could not control his tears after his mother recognized him, and told him she could see clearly again.
Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide, accounting for more than fifty percent of the world’s blind and visually impaired. A staggering 90% of the world’s cataract blind live in the developing world, and continue to be needlessly blind due to extreme poverty.
Dr Sanduk Ruit has been on a lifelong mission to end this chain of poverty induced cataract blindness, and has dedicated over 30 years of his career in perfecting a cataract surgical delivery system, and taking the technology to the world’s most underserved communities.
With his new partnership with Mr Kohli, he expects to amplify his work by expanding his efforts to some of the most underserved communities across the world.
Mr Kohli, after witnessing the transformation in lives of the people, and in effect communities, was further reinforced in his belief that taking sight restoration programs such as the Doramba Outreach Camp would transform communities.
Incidentally, the Doramba camp also marked the one year anniversary of the formation of the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation. In the past year, the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation has been able to screen 128,094 and cure 13,659 of blindness.
Their journey to screen one million and cure between 300,000 to 500,000 by 2030 continues, and immediately after the Doramba camp, the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation performed 305 life-transforming cataract surgeries in Nijgad, Nepal.