The ululation of a formerly blind Ethiopian is one of pure joy.
When the patch is first removed, there is an initial moment of uncertainty and blinking that yields to a gaze of amazement and wonder. Next, the face embraces an expression of rapture as pure as a baby focusing on her mother for the first time.
A spontaneous grin widens into a full-mouthed smile as broad and glowing as an African sunrise. When the lips can spread no further, out gushes the throaty vibration of the ululation. Family members rush to the patient, often with tears flowing down their cheeks.
Not only is the patient freed from the fog of blindness but their caretaker is also now released from the burden of caring for the sightless.
In 1995, my partner Dr. Sanduk Ruit and I cofounded the Himalayan Cataract Project(HCP) (cureblindness.org).
HCP’s mission is to eradicate needless blindness through high-quality ophthalmic care, education and the establishment of world-class eye-care infrastructure.
The new book, Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives, chronicles our journey together and our dedication to bringing the highest-quality cataract surgical care to the most destitute and remote populations in the world.
In poor countries there is often little awareness that sight can be restored. When I began working in Nepal, there was a generalized acceptance that blindness was inevitable.
Forty million people in our world suffer from needless blindness, making them unable to carry out the simple tasks of daily living. Eighty-five percent of this blindness can be treated or could have been prevented. The vast majority will remain without sight until they die.
Forty million people in our world suffer from needless blindness
The economic effects of blindness in the poorest places on our planet are severe. Blindness causes poverty, and poverty leads to lack of care and blindness.
Unlike chronic diseases and most other major causes of disability, half of all blindness in our world can be reversed overnight.
Sight restoration and blindness prevention are among the most cost-effective interventions in medicine. Utilizing intraocular lenses and pharmaceuticals manufactured in India and Nepal, the material cost for a sight-restoring cataract surgery is less than $25 U.S. dollars. If you include the cost of screening, transportation of the patient and a caretaker to the hospital, feeding them for two days, all post-operative medications and follow-up care, it is still typically less than $100.
We cannot quickly and easily get rid of cancer or cure HIV, malaria or tuberculosis, but we can cure a blind person overnight. A cataract surgery restores nearly perfect sight in one day and lasts the remainder of that person’s life. We have the tools. We have the system. It is time to ramp it up.