Myanmar: There is a steady stream of people in and out of the Yangon Eye Hospital. The building, built in the 1960s, feels a decade older. Set in tropical gardens, it is three storeys of concrete, white stucco and barred windows.
The Foundation supports first eye clinic in Myanmar
A yellow dog makes itself at home, patrolling the drive and keeping a close eye on comings and goings.The heat presses down as staff supervise dozens of arrivals. Families of patients juggle food and fans and settle down to wait for what will be life changing surgery.
Surgery is conducted in a warren of rooms on the first floor. Shoes are stacked neatly at the start of the corridor that runs the length of the operating theatres and preparation rooms.
On our way in to the surgical area we are helped into scrubs, masks, and hairnets after donning slip- on sandals. This area is cooled by air-conditioners, so those of us wearing glasses find they fog up immediately. There is a faint smell of bleach.
Dozens of patients are waiting to have cataracts removed. Some are resting after receiving anaesthetics; others are sitting on chairs outside and inside the theatres, one hand shielding an eye, the other clutching their documents. Dr Sanduk Ruit is leading the team. His staff from the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Nepal, where he is the Medical Director, have joined Burmese doctors and nursing staff.
Eye surgeons in training follow every step of his operations on a large TV screen. Professor Tin Win, head of ophthalmology at the hospital, stations himself beside the monitor. Dr Ruit can barely be seen behind his hospital blues and microscope. He has started the morning with a game of badminton and keeps chuckling that he managed to beat a local surgeon half his age.
“My job puts me on the table all day so I need to do a little exercise each morning because otherwise this (laughing as he points to his stomach) will get bigger and bigger. It’s already big.”
Origami in reverse
The room hums with activity then settles as Dr Ruit makes his first incision. Each movement is precise and meticulous.
This time he is using a technique called phacoemulsification.
The soft cataract material is broken up (emulsified) and then sucked out by an ultrasonic handpiece, a little like a mini vacuum cleaner.
As fluid is drawn off, it is replaced with a saline solution that maintains the correct pressure and cools the handpiece.
Once the cataract is removed, an intraocular lens is slipped through one of the incisions, unfolding like a piece of origami in reverse.
Seven minutes is all it takes. As one patient is helped away, the next is manoeuvred into position.
At the end of the day the numbers resemble a good shearer’s tally.
I happen to look down and see Dr Ruit’s bare feet underneath the operating table. They’re flexing gently as if in preparation for the next bout on the badminton court.
Click here to make a charitable donation today to support Dr Ruit's vital sight restoring work.