There's a mysterious allure to Nepal. It could be its dizzying heights, the magic of its temples or the genuine warmth of its people. For The Foundation, Nepal is the start of a dream: Fred's and his great mate's, Dr Sanduk Ruit. Together, they imagined a world where everyone in developing countries had access to the best quality eye care.
An introduction to Nepal
Surrounded by the world’s most dramatic landscapes, Nepal is home to 27 million people. Within the population is a rich diversity of over 100 different ethnic groups and 125 local languages spoken. Nepal was under monarchic rule for many years, until a decade-long civil war ended in 2008. After this, a republic was declared. Despite the break from the monarchy, the political situation in Nepal remains unstable.
Nepal is also one of the world’s poorest nations, with just under half of its population living below the poverty line. The recent devastating earthquakes have resulted in more than just a tragic loss of lives. The country’s economic development has suffered a major setback, its people pushed further into poverty and a rise in infectious diseases. With the political instability, the large number of people living in poverty and vulnerability to environmental disasters, Nepal needs support to create a strong eye health system for its people.
What are the eye health problems?
There are many hundreds of thousands of people living with avoidable blindness in Nepal. There are currently around 466,385 people needing treatment and another 60,000 new cataract cases each year. To receive help, many have to walk for days in extreme conditions to reach remote eye clinics.
Overall health in Nepal is poor, because services are generally inadequate. Eye care is managed and delivered through NGOs rather than through government systems. Although there are 200 ophthalmologists in Nepal, a majority are located in the urban areas.
The Foundation's programs in Nepal
Fred Hollows and Dr Sanduk Ruit
met in Nepal in the late ‘80s while Fred was consulting for the World Health Organisation. They soon realised they shared a common dream: to end avoidable blindness in developing countries through introducing modern surgery techniques. Fred and Dr Ruit planned to build an intraocular lens factory to mass-produce these vital lenses needed for cataract surgery. They knew producing them locally would bring the cost down significantly. Fred became Dr Ruit's mentor, and after studying with Fred in Sydney, Dr Ruit went on to help establish the Fred Hollows Intraocular Lens Laboratory with the help of The Foundation.
In 1994, the same year the factory opened, Dr Ruit became the medical director of the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Nepal – a key partner of The Foundation. It’s now a world-class facility and is still led by master surgeon Dr Ruit, who has restored sight to over 120,000 people. We work with very closely with the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology to train eye care personnel, build facilities, conduct community outreach clinics and implement eye health programs that have made a real difference to people's lives.
In terms of advocacy work, The Foundation has also been involved in drafting the first National Eye Health Policy of Nepal, which is currently under review by the government. We’ve also been working to integrate eye health into the public health system and advocate for the government to co-finance eye health work in the country.
We're making significant progress
Thanks to some great work with our partner, the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology, we achieved a lot in 2022:
Research, training and technology
- Screened 82,386 people
- Performed 16,889 eye operations and treatments, including 5,947 cataract operations, 237 diabetic retinopathy treatments and 10,705 other sight saving or improving interventions
- Distributed 5,983 pairs of glasses
- Trained 1,035 people, including 25 clinic support staff, 692 community health workers, 33 educators and 285 teachers
- Educated 449 school children and community members in eye health and sanitation