Dr. Ruth Pfau: Saviour of Pakistan’s Lepers

Dr. Ruth Pfau landed in Karachi in 1961, on her way to India with a congregation of educationists called Daughters of the Heart of Mary. She and another companion were held back due to some visa problems.

During her stay here she visited a colony of Leprosy patients at McLeod Road (now II Chundrigar Road) and saw them suffering in unsanitary conditions. “I could not believe that humans could live in such conditions. That one visit, the sights I saw during it, made me make a key life decision.” she says of her visit here.

Dr. Pfau and her companion decided to stay on in Pakistan as health workers and dedicated over 55 years of her life to these efforts. She established the Mary Adelaide Leprosy Center in Saddar Karachi, funded mostly by German, Pakistani and Austrian donors. With a hub in Karachi, the Leprosy center has 157 satellite clinics all over the country. It later expanded into treating patients of Tuberculosis and preventing blindness.

She worked tirelessly to treat and prevent leprosy in Pakistan. Her efforts were recognized when in 1996 the World Health Organization declared Pakistan the first country in Asia to have been able to control the spread of Leprosy.

In addition to her work in Leprosy prevention, Dr. Pfau was also at the forefront of relief work during every disaster that struck the country. She led relief work for minorities and overlooked areas during the drought in Balochistan in 2000, during the 2005 earthquake and the devastating floods in 2010. She travelled all over the country, including Balochistan to help treat leprosy patients and even reached out to patients in Afghanistan.

Having witnessed firsthand the ravages of war during the Second World War, when her own home was bombed by Allied forces, Dr. Pfau was inspired to become a Doctor so she could help those who needed medical assistance. “Not all of us can prevent a war; but most of us can help ease suffering — of the body and the soul.”, she aptly said of her desire to heal those suffering.

Dr. Pfau was awarded a myriad of national and international accolades. Pakistan honoured her with the Hilal-i-Pakistan, Hilal-i-Imtiaz, Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam, and the Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam. The Pakistan Mint also issued 50,000 fifty rupees coins in her honour. Civil Hospital, Karachi was renamed to Dr Ruth K.M. Pfau Hospital after her. She is also known as “Pakistan’s Mother Teresa”

Dr. Ruth Pfau died on August 17th, 2017 at Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi and was mourned world over. She received a state funeral and was buried in Gora Qabristan in Karachi. She is the third civilian after Quaid-e-Azam and Abdul Sattar Edhi and the first non-muslim to receive a state funeral.

This year marks the second year since her passing. We continue to honour and recognise her tireless and selfless efforts to end the plight and suffering of thousands of Pakistanis; all in the name of God, love and humanity.

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