PGF honors Geoffrey Tabin, MD, Sanduk Ruit, MD, and the Himalayan Cataract Project as its Persons of the Month for November 2003. We learned of the doctors’ work through Lisa Ling of National Geographic Explorer. Their work with people in some of the remotest areas of the world touches so many lives with eyesight saving medical care. They not only provide advanced medical care, but teach local physicians the skills necessary to carry on. They provide training and follow-up with the supplies and equipment needed. Doctors Tabin, Ruit, and the Himalayan Cataract Project show in real terms the how the message of PGF is realized. Respect for the needs of people across many cultures and the sharing of knowledge betters lives at the individual level.
About the Project:
The Himalayan Cataract Project strives to eradicate preventable and curable blindness in the Himalaya through high-quality ophthalmic care, education, and establishment of a sustainable eye care infrastructure.
Its unique programs in skills-transfer education, cost-recovery, research, and creation of a world-class network of eye-care facilities are empowering local physicians to alleviate the suffering caused by blindness in this most remote region of the world.
The Project’s eye camps are located in Nepal, China, Tibet, Bhutan, India (Sikkim State), and Pakistan
The Himalayan Cataract Project has performed over 30,000 sight-restoring cataract surgeries at its eye camps in the past decade.
You can visit and support the Project at its website by clicking here…
About Dr. Tabin:
Dr. Geoffrey Tabin is an Associate Professor of Surgery and Ophthalmology at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. He graduated from Yale University and then earned an MA in Philosophy at Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship. He brought his interest in moral philosophy and health care delivery to Harvard Medical School where he received his MD in 1985. After a climbing trip to Nepal on which he became the first ophthalmologist to summit Mt. Everest, he watched a Dutch team perform cataract surgery on a woman who had been blind for three years. Before surgery she could not detect the motion of a hand two inches from her face. After the surgery she could see. At the time no native doctor in Nepal was performing modern cataract surgery under a microscope or with a lens implant. Dr. Tabin realized that to solve the problem of blindness in the developing world would require a two-pronged approach: create tertiary centers of excellence in ophthalmic service and establish primary regional clinics staffed by physicians specifically trained in eye care. Moreover, Dr. Tabin concluded that these solutions could only be achieved by educating and empowering local doctors.
After completing an ophthalmology residency at Brown University and a fellowship in corneal surgery in Melbourne, Australia, Dr. Tabin returned to Nepal to work with Dr. Sanduk Ruit, the first Nepali ophthalmologist to use intraocular lens implants. Dr. Tabin adopted Ruit’s methods for delivering high quality cataract surgery at a very low cost and began teaching other Nepali ophthalmologists while running the eye hospital in Biratnagar, Nepal’s second largest city. During those years, Tabin and Ruit trained the first Tibetan surgeon to perform microscopic cataract surgery and refined their method of skills-transfer via high-volume cataract camps. Dr. Tabin and Dr. Ruit vowed to add their own efforts to those of other existing eye care programs, with a goal of overcoming treatable and preventable blindness in the Himalayan region in their lifetime. Dr. Ruit established the Tilganga Eye Centre in 1994 as the first outpatient cataract surgery facility in the Himalayan region. In 1995 Dr. Ruit and Dr. Tabin formally began the Himalayan Cataract Project as a charitable foundation to support their work. From the start, the projects of the Tilganga Eye Centre have been a central focus of the Himalayan Cataract Project.
Dr. Tabin spends at least three months per year in Asia working with his Nepalese counterparts directing Tilganga Eye Centre’s efforts to provide an international standard of eye care an participating in the outreach programs. As the director of the Himalayan Cataract Project, he has over nine years experience administering an international charitable organization, which includes: coordinating fundraising; recruiting American faculty; soliciting donations of equipment; and facilitating the logistics of transporting donations and volunteers to Asia.
While he pursued his goals in Nepal, Dr. Tabin continued to teach at the University of Vermont and was recently promoted to Associate Professor with tenure. He is a leader in both the local ophthalmologic community and the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He is a member of the International Education Committee for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and teaches a course on cataract surgery at both the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons.
Treating every single eye as being as valuable as a life, and striving for excellence in every surgery and surgeon he trains, Dr. Tabin embodies the compassion that is the core of the medical profession. Through his work as co-director of the Himalayan Cataract Project, Dr. Tabin is making a significant difference in the world.
About Dr. Ruit:
Dr. Sanduk Ruit grew up in a remote village in Eastern Nepal. He was educated in India and completed his three-year ophthalmology residency at the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, India. He also completed fellowships in microsurgery in the Netherlands and Australia as well as additional ophthalmic training at the Wilmer Eye Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Michigan. Dr. Ruit met Professor Fred Hollows from Sydney, Australia in 1986 when Hollows visited Nepal as a World Health Organization consultant. He went on to study with him for 14 months at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital. Hollows was Ruit’s mentor and an inspiration to him. The two men believed in the right of people with treatable blindness to have their sight restored, and that people in developing countries deserved access to the same quality of care and technology as those in the Developed World. They shared an ambitious vision: the elimination of avoidable blindness in the Himalayan region, a process they believed needed to be driven by local people.
When Dr. Ruit returned to Nepal he was instrumental in the formation of the Nepal Eye Program and worked on a large epidemiological survey of blindness in Nepal. He was the first Nepali doctor to perform cataract surgery with intraocular lens implants and pioneered the use of microsurgical extra-capsular cataract extraction with posterior chamber lens implants in remote eye camps. Although other important international organizations sponsored eye camps in the region providing eye care and training local ophthalmologists, the camps established by Dr. Ruit were the first to introduce the use of intraocular lenses in cataract surgery. Put simply, this is the removal of the cataract and insertion of a plastic intraocular lens. Before this, people who had cataract surgery in Nepal were given crude, Coke bottle-thick glasses that allowed only a poor quality of vision with terrible distortions in peripheral vision that made life on uneven trails difficult. Moreover, if the glasses were lost or broken the patients were unable to focus and again rendered blind.
Dr. Ruit later developed a sutureless form of the surgery, a technique that allows safe, high-volume, low-budget operations. A masterful surgeon, he can perform dozens of flawless cataract operations at eye camps over a 12-hour day – and laugh over a meal with his team at the end of it. Dr. Ruit insists on high standards from everyone and always raises the bar for his own work, an attitude that gains him enormous respect from all who work with him.
Dr. Ruit helped found the Tilganga Eye Centre, the Nepal Eye Program and its Australian counterpart, Nepal Eye Program Australia (NEPA). Using Tilganga as his base of operations, Ruit continues to upgrade the state of eye care in Nepal, training surgeons and paramedics, and furthering his vision to cure blindness throughout the Himalayas. Doctors Ruit and Tabin have been teaching their cataract surgery technique at the American Academy of Ophthalmology and at the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons annual meetings.