Ruth Pfau: Pakistan’s ‘Mother Teresa’ died
Ruth Pfau, a German doctor and nun who dedicated her life to eradicating leprosy in Pakistan and has been described as the country’s Mother Teresa, has died in Karachi aged 87.
She died in hospital after being admitted on Friday, her order said.
Dr Pfau witnessed leprosy in Pakistan for the first time in 1960 and returned to set up clinics across the country.
Her efforts meant that in 1996 the disease was declared to have been brought under control.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said Dr Pfau “may have been born in Germany, but her heart was always in Pakistan”.
“Dr Ruth came to Pakistan here at the dawn of a young nation, looking to make lives better for those afflicted by disease, and in doing so, found herself a home,” he said, praising her courage and loyalty.
Harald Meyer-Porzky from the Ruth Pfau Foundation in Würzburg said Dr Pfau had “given hundreds of thousands of people a life of dignity”.
Dr Pfau was born in Leipzig in 1929 and saw her home destroyed by bombing during World War Two.
She studied medicine and was later sent to southern India by her order, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, but a visa issue meant she became stuck in Karachi, where she first became aware of leprosy.
“Well if it doesn’t hit you the first time, I don’t think it will ever hit you,” she told the BBC in 2010.
“Actually the first patient who really made me decide was a young Pathan. He crawled on hands and feet into this dispensary, acting as if this was quite normal, as if someone has to crawl there through that slime and dirt on hands and feet, like a dog.”
Dr Pfau rescued disfigured and suffering children who had been confined to caves and cattle pens for years by their parents, who were terrified that they were contagious.
She trained Pakistani doctors and attracted foreign donations, founding Pakistan’s National Leprosy Control Programme and the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre, which has a presence in every Pakistani province.
Dr Pfau also won praise for her efforts in helping the victims of devastating floods in south-western Pakistan in 2010.
She received numerous honours for her work, including 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.
She wrote four books in German about her work in Pakistan, including To Light A Candle, which has been translated into English.
Her last rites will be performed on 19 August at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi and she will then be buried at the Gora Qabristan Christian cemetery in the city.