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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Dr. Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau: “Mother Teresa of Pakistan”

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Dr Ruth a German-born physician and nun of the Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (born 9 September 1929) dedicated her life to eradicating leprosy in Pakistan. Dr Ruth studied medicine at Mainz, Germany in 1949, she joined the Catholic Order and eventually landed in Pakistan.

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At the time when leprosy was considered taboo in Pakistan, rather than a medical disease, chivalrous Dr Ruth along with her team started their work in the slum quarters on McLeod Road, Karachi in 1960.

Dr Ruth was awarded Pakistani citizenship in 1998 in recognition of her humanitarian work.

When Dr Ruth first visited the leprosy patient colony; the appalling condition of the place, lacking basic health facilities, water and electricity horrified her. Dr Ruth decided to stay in Pakistan and opened the first Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC). Leprosy patients were treated in Dr Ruth’s clinic and her work went as far as planning the last rites of the patients, who were abandoned by their families.

Her charitable work gradually started gaining attention and she formed a team of volunteers. In 1968, Dr Ruth’s clinic in partnership with the Government of Pakistan launched the ‘National Leprosy Control Programme’. General Zia appointed Dr Ruth as the President Advisor on leprosy control. Thanks to Dr Ruth’s tireless efforts World Health Organisation declared Pakistan leprosy free in 1996. To date, her organisation runs 157 leprosy centres and employees more than 800 staff members.

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Dr Ruth was awarded Pakistani citizenship in 1998 in recognition of her humanitarian work. She has also received several national and international awards including; Sitara i Quaid i Azam (1969), Order of Merit (1969, Germany), Hilal-e-Imtiaz, Hilal-i-Pakistan, Ramon Magsaysay Award (2002), the Jinnah Award (2002) and the Doctor of Science (DSc), honoris causa, Aga Khan University, Karachi (2004).

In addition to her notable work in eradicating leprosy, Dr Ruth worked heroically to help the earthquake and flood affected people of Pakistan in 2005 and 2010. Her demise at the age of 87, after dedicating 57 years of her life to the people of Pakistan, left the entire nation in mourning. Dr Ruth was accorded a full state funeral in August 2017, the first non-Muslim to have received full state funeral and a 19-gun salute.