Free Press Journal

Pakistan’s ‘Light to the Lepers’ Ruth Pfau dies


Islamabad: Ruth Pfau, a German doctor and nun who dedicated her life to eradicating leprosy in Pakistan and who has been described as the country’s “Mother Teresa”, died in Karachi on Thursday. She was 87.

Pfau was undergoing treatment at a hospital since two weeks and passed away during a surgery at 12.30 a.m., Dawn newspaper reported.

Pfau had dedicated more than 50 years of her life to fighting leprosy in Pakistan, which earned her the name “Light to the Lepers”. She was the founder of the National Leprosy Control Programme in Pakistan and Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC).

Pfau studied medicine in Germany in the 1950s and was later sent to India by her order, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary. But a visa problem kept her in Karachi, where she went on to live for 57 years.

Due to her efforts, Pakistan became one of the first countries in Asia to be declared free of leprosy in 1966.

In recognition of her work, the Pakistani government awarded Pfau the nation’s second highest civilian honour, Hilal-i-Imtiaz, in 1979.

She was granted Pakistani nationality in 1988, and in 1989 she was presented with the Hilal-i-Pakistan, the country’s highest civilian honour.

Soon after the announcement of her death, homage began pouring in from the Pakistani authorities.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in a statement said “Dr Pfau may have been born in Germany, but her heart was always in Pakistan”.

“Dr Pfau’s services to end leprosy in Pakistan cannot be forgotten. She left her homeland and made Pakistan her home to serve humanity. Pakistani nation salutes Dr Pfau and her great tradition to serve humanity will be continued,” said President Mamnoon Hussain.

Chief of Army Staff Qamar Jawed Bajwa referred to Dr Ruth as an “ambassador of humanity” and said “she will always be remembered” for her services.

Her last rites will be performed on August 19 at St. Patrick’s Church in Karachi’s Saddar area.

Harald Meyer-Porzky from the Ruth Pfau Foundation in Würzburg said Pfau had “given hundreds of thousands of people a life of dignity”.

Pfau was born in Leipzig in 1929 and saw her home destroyed by bombing during World War Two.