State Funeral Planned For Pakistan’s 'Savior Of Lepers' Dr. Ruth Pfau

The founder of the National Leprosy Control Programme in Pakistan, Dr. Ruth Pfau, passed away at the age of 87 in Karachi.

Dr. Ruth Pfau, the guardian angel who transformed the destiny of several leprosy patients in Pakistan, is no more. She died on Aug. 15 at the age of 87 in Karachi. She had kidney and heart disease.

Dr. Pfau, also known as the “Mother Teresa of Pakistan,” selflessly dedicated her life to eradicate leprosy from Pakistan.

It began in 1960, when she was posted in India by her Roman Catholic order, the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary. However, somehow, she got stuck in Karachi owing to visa issues.

She happened to visit a leper colony in Karachi, by chance, and couldn’t help but stay back to help the people suffering from the disfiguring and stigmatizing ailment of leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease. The mildly contagious bacterial infection was then considered incurable and many Pakistanis were affected by the disease.

“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 recalled in an interview to the Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune in 2014.

In 1956, she joined the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center and transformed it in a hub of 157 medical centers where tens of thousands of Pakistani leprosy victims were treated. In 1962, she became the founder of the center. Soon, the center had branches in all the provinces of the country.

The passionate humanitarian traveled to different parts of the country to heal patients. She also travelled extensively in Afghanistan, even during the Cold War was.

“I would travel to Bamiyan, Kabul, Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat. Be it Hekmatyar or Ahmed Shah Masoud, I would cover my head, sit with them and have qahwa (tea). They respected me. They knew I had no agenda other than serving people with medical facilities,” she told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

She never backed down.

Following her untiring efforts, the government of Pakistan gave Dr. Ruth Pfau honorary citizenship in 1988.

She finally won her battle with leprosy in 1996, when the World Health Organization declared Pakistan one of the first countries in Asia to have controlled the disease. 

The compassionate woman was awarded with the Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Asam in 1969, the Hilal-e-Imtiaz in 1979, the the Hilal-e-Pakistan in 1989, the Jinnah Award for 2002 in 2003. In 2004, the honorary degree of Doctor of Science was conferred upon her by the Aga Khan University.

She received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the then-president of Pakistan in 2006 and Nishan-e-Quaid-e-Azam, another civil award, in 2011.

Dr. Pfau wrote four books about her work in Pakistan. She explained how she had no intentions of ever retiring completely in one of her books.

“I don’t use the word ‘retirement,’ ” she wrote. “It sounds as if you had completed everything, as if life was over and the world was in order.”

Following the news of her death, tributes poured in on Twitter.












Dr. Pfau will be given a state funeral, Pakistan's Interim Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced recently.

“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. Although she was born in Germany, he added, “her heart was always in Pakistan.”

The funeral mass will be held at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi. She is going to be the third civilian, after Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and famed philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, the founder of one of Pakistan's biggest welfare organizations, to receive a state funeral.

Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters, Akhtar Soomro

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