20/20 Vision

A recent cover of The Economist featured a compelling story about how nearly 1 billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty in the past 20 years, and also called on the world to make an even greater effort to lift another 1 billion people out of extreme poverty by 2030.

As a Nepalese doctor working to eradicate unnecessary blindness primarily in the Himalayan region and Sub-Saharan Africa, I see this poverty firsthand each and every day.

We developed an innovative cataract surgery model that has provided sight to hundreds of thousands of people in the world's poorest countries. In 1995, I co-founded the Himalayan Cataract Project, a non-profit organization,with my American partner Dr. Geoff Tabin.
When I talk to my colleagues and friends about our mission to eradicate preventable and treatable blindness, most people can't believe that cataracts are that prevalent. For most, what first comes to mind when they think about extreme poverty are issues such as malaria, malnutrition and cholera.

There are so many subsets of illnesses and conditions that need attention. In the Western Hemisphere, cataracts are primarily an issue for the elderly; but in Nepal and other developing countries, cataracts affect the total population,including young adults and even children,due to malnutrition, inadequate health and education services, poor water quality and a lack of sanitation. In the Himalayas, blindness is often considered a death sentence. Eighteen million people are blind from cataracts globally, and another 60 million are in various stages of blindness.

With the long-term collaboration between Himalayan Cataract Project, Fred Hollows Foundation and the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology based in Kathmandu (where I serve as Medical Director), we have made a significant impact in combating preventable blindness far beyond the borders of Nepal -- to countries and regions such as India, China/Tibet, Bhutan, Cambodia, Thailand, Ghana, Ethiopia and Indonesia, among others. We have perfected a high-quality, high-volume and low-cost blindness prevention model that has been successfully replicated in more than 15 countries on four continents.

Most recently, our team conducted a seven-day cataract program in Indonesia. We performed over 1,824 cataract surgeries in just seven days, transferring high-volume cataract workshop skills to over 17 nurse/doctor eye care teams that we have trained over the past three years.

Throughout my career as an ophthalmologist, I have witnessed such amazing experiences when a patient is given the power of sight. The process of removing the bandages after surgery is quite miraculous. It is a joyous and poignant moment, particularly when children have not seen their mothers' faces for years.

Humanitarians who work to improve the lives of the poor are a quiet army. We do hear about the heroic humanitarians in war-torn countries or in natural disaster zones, but many of us work in an effective, stealth method in remote regions where resources are limited or non-existent When we started the Himalayan Cataract Project, I never thought that Geoff and I would travel, train others and provide so much quality care in so many parts of the world, all of which is recounted in a new book, Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives.

Extreme poverty is defined as those living on $1.25 a day. Restoring sight is just one piece of a complex puzzle in lifting people out of this helpless situation. We continue the fight -- one eye at a time.