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.
Working in Australia in 1986, Ruit and Fred Hollows developed a strategy for using inexpensive intraocular lenses to bring small-incision cataract surgery to the developing world. However, the lenses remained too expensive for many cataract patients. In 1995 Ruit developed a new intraocular lens that could be produced far more cheaply and which, as of 2010, is used in over 60 countries. Ruit’s method is now taught in U.S. medical schools. Despite being far cheaper, Ruit’s method has the same success rate as western techniques: 98% at six months.
In 1994, Ruit and The Fred Hollows Foundation founded the Tilganga Eye Center, now called the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology, in Kathmandu. Tilganga has performed over 90,000 operations and trained over 500 medical personnel from around the world, and produces Ruit’s intraocular lenses at a cost of less than US$5 each. It also produces prosthetic eyes for US$3, compared to imports that cost $150. For those unable to reach the Center, or who live in otherwise isolated rural areas, Ruit and his team set up mobile eye camps, often using tents, classrooms, and even animal stables as makeshift operating rooms.
After treating a North Korean diplomat in Kathmandu, Ruit persuaded North Korean authorities to let him visit in 2006. There he conducted surgery on 1000 patients and trained many local surgeons. However, many of the citizens attributed the restoration of their sight to the current supreme leader of North Korea at the time, Kim Jong-il.
Ruit credits his wife, an ophthalmic nurse he married in 1987, as being a pillar of strength to him in his difficult days while pursuing Tilganga.
Awards and Accolades
Vision Excellence Awards: On behalf of the Himalayan Cataract Project, we have the honor of nominating Dr. Sanduk Ruit for the IAPB Vision Excellence Award.
Ramon Magsaysay Award
Sanduk Ruit was awarded with Ramon Magsaysay Award, Peace and International Understanding, Nepal, 2006.
Padma Shri Award
Dr.Sanduk Ruit was awarded by Padma Shri Award by India Government.