How can the government sit idle while good samaritans like Dr Ruit give their all to combat blindness?The state needs to play a direct hand in protecting its people.
On July 3, social media users were treated to an emotional and positive video—the scenes of a young boy, having been blind for three years, regaining eyesight due to a 15-minute procedure performed by famed eye surgeon and cataract surgery pioneer Dr Sanduk Ruit. Roshan Theeng, the 13-year-old in the video, was unable to hide his happiness upon being able to see, cherishing the fact that he could walk freely and go to school again. But his is among the few positive endings of the countless numbers of preventable or curable blindness still afflicting the poor in Nepal and other developing countries. The great work that Dr Sanduk Ruit, his team and others like him do to provide subsidised or free access to world-leading treatments and surgeries to prevent or cure blindness is undoubted and commendable. Yet, it is astonishing that the state cares so little for the plight of its citizens that even after years of Ruit’s pioneering of an economical, effective and mobile procedure to cure cataract-related blindness, it still relies on the goodness of such amazing individuals, instead of applying resources to do more in terms of prevention or treatment.
Theeng’s illness, like that afflicting many in Nepal, was the formation of cataracts in both his eyes beginning when he was in grade 2. Of the more than 40 million blind in the world, more than 20 million are affected by cataracts, and a majority of these are found in developing countries. In Nepal, too, over 65 percent of the cases of preventable blindness is due to cataracts. And, contrary to popular perception, cataract-caused blindness affects children as well, especially in countries like Nepal.
Cataracts are usually hereditary, but exposure to UV rays, lack of proper nutrients and vitamins, diabetes and trauma can either cause them in non-hereditary cases or can make them occur faster. It is easy to see why cataracts and other forms of preventable blindness here, since the antibiotics and the Vitamin A that costs a meagre Rs2 that can prevent many forms of blindness are unavailable to most of the rural poor. Moreover, health check-ups are infrequent and do not occur everywhere. With preventable steps not being taken, and regular eye check-ups a rare occurrence, many poor Nepalis go blind—and stay blind unless free eye camps come to an area near them. And in terms of making cataract surgeries available and accessible, perhaps no one has done more for the matter than Dr Ruit.
Dr Ruit has formed an innovative surgery procedure that negates the use of million-dollar machines, and makes the process faster (as quick as five minutes per eye), much cheaper (less than $25) and makes it mobile—allowing for the procedure to be done in health camps in remote areas such as rural Nepal. In fact, he has himself conducted more than 120,000 of these surgeries successfully. Dr Ruit and his team also hold eye check-ups in rural areas that help in the reduction in the number of occurences of preventable blindness. The government, instead of stepping in and using its network of health posts and medical professionals to reduce preventable blindness, has been letting private non-profits do all the work. This is wrong. The government should work towards making available the nutrients and procedures that prevent blindness in every corner of Nepal. Every year, more people suffer from preventable blindness, and it's obvious that without the government’s direct intervention, good samaritans can only do so much.