Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease (HD), is a long-term infection by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae or Mycobacterium lepromatosis.It is a disease that causes discolouration of the skin, sores, and disfigurements.
. Initially, infections are without symptoms and typically remain this way for 5 to 20 years.Symptoms that develop include granulomas of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes.This may result in a lack of ability to feel pain, thus loss of parts of extremities due to repeated injuries or infection due to unnoticed wounds.Weakness and poor eyesight may also be present.
Leprosy is curable with a treatment known as multidrug therapy.
She had been dealing with several health problems due to her advancing age, including kidney and heart disease,for which she has been undergoing treatment for several years.State funeral for Pakistan’s ‘Mother Teresa’ Hundreds of people had attended the funeral.Her last rites were performed on 19 August,2017 at St Patrick’s Church in Karachi and she was buried at the Gora Qabristan Christian cemetery in the city.Huge crowds gathered for the procession and funeral service in the southern port city of Karachi on Saturday as politicians, military officials and members of civil society paid tribute to the woman dubbed “Pakistan’s Mother Theresa”.
State TV broadcast live footage of her casket being carried by a military guard at the city’s St Patrick’s Cathedral as hundreds of mourners lined the streets.
Martha Fernando, who worked with Pfau at her Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center, said the German physician’s death was a great loss to humanity.
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. a German nun who spent more than 50 years helping Pakistan’s most vulnerable people and fighting against leprosy.
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, had died in Karachi aged 87.
She died in hospital after being admitted.
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.
She 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.
“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.
One of her friends said,”There is no one like her and there won’t be any replacement to her. We pray to God to send people like her again to this world so that they could continue serving people.”
Pfau, who died on August 10,2017 at the age of 87, trained as a doctor in her youth went on to join a Catholic sisterhood before arriving in Pakistan in 1960. She specialised in the treatment of leprosy.
Pfau’s work earned her the Nishan-e-Quaid-i-Azam, one of Pakistan’s highest civilian awards.
Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar wrote: “Her selfless and unmatched service to humanity will be remembered and she will remain in our hearts as Shining Star.”
President Mamnoon Hussain in a statement said that, “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.”
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan said, “she came 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. We will remember her for her courage, her loyalty, her service to the eradication of leprosy, and most of all, her patriotism.”
Chief of Army Staff Qamar Bajwa referred to Pfau as an “ambassador of humanity“.
Sister Dr Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau (9 September 1929 – 10 August 2017) was a German-Pakistani physician and nun of the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary. She devoted nearly 50 years of her life to fighting leprosy in Pakistan.
Pfau was born in Leipzig, Germany, on 9 September 1929 from Protestant parents.She had four sisters and one brother. Her home was destroyed by bombing during World War II.Following the post-war Soviet occupation of East Germany she escaped to West Germany along with her family, and chose medicine as her future career.During the 1950s, she studied medicine at the University of Mainz.During this time, Pfau met several times with a Dutch Christian woman, who was a concentration camp survivor and currently dedicated her life to “preaching love and forgiveness”. After “her life-changing experience”, Pfau left “a romantic association” with a fellow student, got involved in discussions in the Mainz’s philosophy and classical literature department,and she was baptized as an Evangelicals—before her conversion to Catholicism.After completing her clinical examination, Dr Pfau moved to Marburg. There she carried on with her clinical studies, joined a Catholic parish, and she was greatly influenced by Romano Guardini’s The Lord in this period.
In 1957,she joined the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a Catholic order, in Paris. She said, “When you receive such a calling, you cannot turn it down, for it is not you who has made the choice. … God has chosen you for himself.She travelled to various parts of Pakistan and across the border to Afghanistan to rescue patients who were abandoned by their families or locked in small rooms for a lifetime.Dr.Ruth Once said,”Not all of us can prevent a war; but most of us can help ease sufferings—of the body and the soul.”
— Ruth Pfau
In 1960, aged 31, she decided to dedicate the rest of her life to the people of Pakistan and their battle against leprosy outbreaks. While in Karachi, by chance she visited the Lepers’ Colony behind McLeod Road (now I. I. Chundrigar Road) near the City Railway Station.Here she decided that the care of patients would be her life’s calling. She started with medical treatment for the leprosy patients in a hut in this slum. The Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre was founded (which later branched out into tuberculosis and blindness prevention programmes) and social work for the leprosy patients and their family members was started by Dr. I. K. Gill. A Leprosy Clinic was bought in April 1963 and patients from all over Karachi, Pakistan, and even from Afghanistan came for treatment.
In 1979, she was appointed as the Federal Advisor on Leprosy to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare of Government of Pakistan.Pfau went to distant areas of Pakistan where there were no medical facilities for leprosy patients. She collected donations in Germany and Pakistan and cooperated with hospitals in Rawalpindi and Karachi. In recognition of her service to the country, she was awarded Pakistani citizenship in 1988.
Due to her continued efforts, in 1996, the World Health Organisation declared Pakistan one of the first countries in Asia to have controlled leprosy. The number of leprosy cases nationwide dropped significantly from 19,398 in the early 1980s to 531 in 2016, according to the Dawn.
On 9 September 1999, Archbishop Simeon Anthony Pereira of Karachi celebrated a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate Sr. Pfau’s 70th birthday, which was attended by Christians together with Muslims.
The social perception in medieval communities was generally one of fear, and those people infected with the disease were thought to be unclean, untrustworthy, and morally corrupt.People with leprosy even were also often required to wear clothing that identified them as such or carry a bell announcing their presence. Segregation from mainstream society was common.
Sister Pfau is recognised in Pakistan and abroad as a distinguished human being and had been awarded many awards and medals. On 23 March 1989, Pfau received the Hilal-i-Pakistan award presented by the then-President of Pakistan Ghulam Ishaq Khan at the President House for her work with leprosy patients.
Speaking at a function in Islamabad on 30 January 2000, to mark the 47th World Leprosy Day, the then-President Rafiq Tarar praised Pfau, who built up the National Leprosy Control Program in Pakistan, for working not only for those afflicted with leprosy, but also for those with tuberculosis.In 2006, Pfau was honoured as the ‘Woman of the Year 2006’ by City FM89.
On 14 August 2010, on the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence Day, the then-President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari awarded Pfau the Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam for public service.She was hailed as Pakistan’s “Mother Teresa” after her work towards helping people displaced by the 2010 Pakistan floods.In 2015, Pfau was awarded the Staufer Medal, the highest award of the German state of Baden-Württemberg.
Other awards received by her are 1969 Order of Merit (Germany),1969 Sitara i Quaid i Azam,1989 Hilal-i-Pakistan,2002 Ramon Magsaysay Award,2003 Jinnah Award for 2002,2004 Doctor of Science (DSc), honoris causa. Aga Khan University, Karachi and 2010 Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam for public service.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi paid a homage by a statement as
“She gave new hope to innumerable people and proved through her illustrious toil that serving humanity knows no boundaries,” the statement further said,”We are proud of her exemplary services, and she will remain in our hearts as a shining symbol in times ahead.”
I request state of Pakistan and Especially PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to allocate 9 September,date of her birth as Pakistan’s Leprosy Day.
Dr. Zeeshan Khan works at CMH Hospital Lahore.
He can be reached at:[email protected],