Director of the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Nepal, Dr Sanduk Ruit, has told The Himalayan Times that research is underway with a Swiss company which may bring state-of-the-art eye surgery to the developing world. 

"We have been able to simplify the procedure [for] phacoemulsification cataract surgery, and slashed the cost of equipment necessary by about half," Dr. Ruit said.

In phacoemulsification cataract surgery, an ultrasonic device (using high frequency sound waves) breaks up and removes the cloudy cataract lens from the eye. This is the most common treatment for cataract in the developed world.

If the cost can be brought down further, the fast-recovery procedure may provide an alternative to manual small incision cataract surgery which is commonly used in developing countries because of its affordability.

The equipment for phacoemulsification currently costs $US50,000 ($AUD48,529) in the international market but Dr Ruit believes it is possible to “slash this price down to $US10,000”. Such a breakthrough would bring this type of surgery, once thought possible only in richer developed countries, within the affordability range of developing countries.  

"Our work will benefit people in under-developed countries. As the overhead costs decreases, the procedure will cost less and more people can afford the surgery," he said.

The Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology works in partnership with The Fred Hollows Foundation in Nepal and has a history of pioneering medical breakthroughs in eye health in the developing world.  

In the early 1990s, Professor Fred Hollows and Dr Ruit worked together to establish a low cost, high quality intraocular lens (IOL) laboratory based within what is now called the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology. The lab broke through all the existing price barriers for cataract surgery in the developing world – producing lenses for around $8, rather than hundreds of dollars. It’s one of the main reasons The Foundation can restore sight now for as little as $25.

In the spirit of Fred Hollows, Dr Ruit and his team at Tilganga continue to explore new ways of bringing first-rate eye health services to those less fortunate.

Learn more about the Nepal program.