The Fred Hollows Foundation recently supported the largest eye surgery outreach of its kind in Myanmar. Professor Fred Hollows' Nepalese friend and colleague, Dr Sanduk Ruit, led the surgical team.

Over two weeks Dr Ruit and his team restored sight to 1,242 people at two eye camps funded by The Foundation. A further two are planned in 2014.

“The Foundation has made a life-changing difference to some of the poorest people in Myanmar,” said Brian Doolan, CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation.

The country has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world, peaking at 8.1 per cent in rural areas. Cataracts are to blame for 60 per cent of this loss of sight.

The Foundation says that Myanmar’s Health Minister wants to put eye health higher on the agenda.   

“Eyes don’t know politics,” said Mr Doolan. “We work in some very hard areas. We work in Eritrea and in North Korea. Blindness doesn’t pick people according to their political persuasion.”

“We would be immoral to leave people who are avoidably blind, needlessly blind. We would be immoral to leave them… This is no longer a medical question. This is a question of poverty, of access and this is also a question of gender. The majority of people who are blind in the developing world are women.”  

In Myanmar, more than 4,000 people answered advertisements for the free surgery. After screening for other conditions, 1,600 were selected for the cataract camps.

The surgery in Yangon and Bago was led by Dr Ruit. He is Medical Director of the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Nepal and is one of Asia’s best known eye surgeons.

Some patients expressed a hope that they would be able to work again after their operation. Others simply wanted to be able to see the buddha or care for their grandchildren properly.

“I am really happy because I have got my sight back again, “said Daw Tin Hla from Kawa Township outside Yangon. “They told me to walk very slowly but I didn’t. I am eager to walk very quickly. After the operation I feel free.”

Dr Ruit pioneered small incision cataract surgery that needs no stitches, a method that can take just minutes per patient to complete and that he has taught in a number of countries.

He also wants to help provide other training for support staff and at a community level.    

“One of the problems in Myanmar is lack of proper proportion of support… of paramedical staff and I think that this is one other NGOs and supporters should get together and to see whether we can establish a separate paramedical program which has been successful in other countries, “ said Dr Ruit.

“Secondly, we should ramp up the paramedical nursing and I think it’s very important to take this service to the community in Myanmar.”

Professor Fred Hollows met Dr Ruit in Nepal in the 1980s and the pair became close friends and collaborators. The Foundation helped establish and continues to support the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology.

> Find out more about The Foundation's sight restoring work around the world.