Dr Ruth Pfau, life of a humble leprosy doctor
Dr Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau (9 September 1929 – 10 August 2017), German doctor and nun, has passed away during a surgery procedure in Karachi. She was 87 years old. Dr Pfau, also known as Pakistani Mother Teresa, devoted her whole life to treating leprosy patients in Pakistan.
Dr Pfau was born in Leipzig, Germany. After World War II, she escaped to West Germany with her family, and decided to study medicine. In the 1950s she studied medicine at the universities of Mainz and Marburg.
After finishing her studies and joining Catholic order (Daughters of the Heart of Mary), she was on her way to India. But, after facing visa problems, she was redirected to Pakistan.
Dr Pfau witnessed leprosy for the first time in 1960, upon arriving to Pakistan. The illness she never heard of, or knew exsisted. The images of disfigured and socially excluded people she saw upon arrival, motivated her to do all she can to eradicate leprosy.
She was the founder of the Pakistan’s National Leprosy Control Programme and the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre. She helped numerous people who suffered from the illness, reaching the figure of 50,000 treated patients.
Dr Pfau went on and opened branches in all Pakistan provinces. She provided training to Pakistani doctors and volunteers and worked on attracting foreign donations. As a result, in 1988, she was granted Pakistani citizenship.
Finally, after 38 years of her efforts, in 1996, Pakistan was one of the first countries in Asia to be declared leprosy free by World Health Organization.
She has also helped in rescuing victims from the 2005 earthquake and floods that caught south western part of Pakistan in 2010. She received numerous honours for her work, among them the Hilal-e-Imtiaz – Pakistan’s second highest civilian award – in 1979, the Hilal-e-Pakistan in 1989 and the German Staufer Medal in 2015. On 14 August 2010, the President of Pakistan awarded Dr Pfau the Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam for public service. Yet, despite all her achievements, she stayed humble and was never indiferent to pain and suffering of others.
The funeral for the late Dr Ruth Pfau will be held on 19 August at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi.