A German nun, who spent more than half a century in Pakistan battling leprosy and helping the country’s most susceptible people, was unknown by the youth of Pakistan till her death. How busy are we in our personal lives that we never paid any attention towards those people who were fighting for the betterment of our country with no personal advantage in helping the people of Pakistan.
Yes, we are talking about Ruth. Sister Dr. Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau, who was a German Physician who devoted nearly 50 years, half of her life to battling Leprosy, a disease which causes discoloration of the skin, sores, and disfigurements, in Pakistan. She is also known as Pakistan’s Mother Teresa. She gave new hope to incalculable people and proved through her illustrious drudgery that serving humanity knows no boundaries.
Ruth Pfau was born in September 1929, Germany. She grew up seeing the horrors and terror of World War 2 in which her home was destroyed due to bombing. At the end of the war, her country was divided into two states, West Germany and East Germany. East Germany was under the Russian Occupation and it was very difficult for her to pursue education there. So she and her family crossed the demarcation line of East Germany to West Germany illegally, where she acquired her medical education. She studied medicine at the University of Mainz and Marburg. After her graduation, she joined the catholic order of the “Daughters of Heart of Mary” as a Nun.
She left her inherent country Germany and stopped in Karachi on her way to India on March 8, 1960. She was being sent to a Mission Station in India by her Congregation but due to some visa problems she broke journey in Karachi. There, she visited the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Clinic run by her Congregation in the “Beggar Colony” of McLeod Road which is now known as I.I. Chundigarh Road. On seeing the plight of people affected with leprosy there, she decided to stay on.
In 1961, she went to South India to get training in the management of Leprosy and then returned to Karachi for establishing and expanding the Leprosy Control Program. Later in 1965, she along with her fellow Dr. Zarina Fazelbhoy, a Pakistani dermatologist originated a training programme for paramedical workers.
She travelled to every alcove and corner of the country for the treatment of Leprosy patients. Pfau, with the help of provincial governments, developed Leprosy Control Units in Leprosy affected provinces.
In 1979, she was also appointed as the Federal Advisor on Leprosy to the Ministry of Health by the Government of Pakistan. It was all due to her hard work that World Health Organization (WHO) declared Pakistan one of the first Asian countries to have complete control on Leprosy in 1996. Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre also has a main hospital with a large OPD with all necessary service facilities including a Physiotherapy unit thanks to her. There is also a shoe workshop for malformed patients, partly manufacturing artificial limbs by networking with other NGOs, 11 sub-centers and a home for the handicapped patients in Karachi.
Unfortunately, this great lady is with us no more. She passed away last month on August 10, 2017 at Agha Khan Hospital Karachi. She was dealing with several health problems due to her advanced aging and had been undergoing treatment for many years.
This lady for her hard work was honored by many awards such as:
- “The Order of the Cross”, Federal Republic of Germany
- “Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam” Islamic Republic of Pakistan
- “Hilal-e-Imtiaz”, Islamic Republic of Pakistan
- “The Commanders Cross of the Order of Merit with Star”, Federal Republic of Germany
- Honorary Pakistani citizenship
- “Hilal-e-Pakistan” Islamic Republic of Pakistan
- “Damien-Dutton Award”, The Damien-Dutton Society, USA
- “Albert Schweitzer Gesellschaft Award”, Federal Republic of Austria
- “Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Services” Government of the Philippines
- “The Jinnah Award”, The Jinnah Society
- “In the Name of Allah Award”, Idara Wiqar-e-Adab
- Degree of Doctor of Science (DSc), Honoris Causa, Aga Khan University, Karachi
- “Marion Doenhoff-Prize”, Germany.
On the day of her death Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi stated that “Pfau may have been born in Germany but her heart was always in Pakistan”.
It was only due to her endless struggle that Pakistan defeated Leprosy. We are proud of her exemplary services, and she will remain in our hearts as a shining symbol in times ahead”Pfau may have been born in Germany, her heart was always in Pakistan,””Pfau may have been born in Germany, her heart was always in Pakistan,””Pfau may have been born in Germany, her heart was always in Pakistan,”
“That’s how it is with legends. The greater they sound, the more must’ve got left out.”