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August 11, 2017

Pakistani Mother Teresa struggling to eradicate leprosy dies

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August 11, 2017

KARACHI: The entire Pakistani nation was saddened on Thursday when German-born Nun Dr Ruth Pfau, dubbed as Pakistani ‘Mother Teresa’ by the local and foreign media for her 50-year-long struggle to eradicate leprosy from Pakistan, died here at a local hospital at the age of 87 after brief illness.

“Dr Ruth Katharina Martha Pfau had been taken to Aga Khan Hospital on Friday last on the complaint of chest infection and some other complaints. During her stay at the hospital, she was diagnosed with multiple infections and acute kidney injury and despite best efforts by the doctors, she passed away this (Thursday) morning," Mervyn F. Lobo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center (MALC), told The News.

Stuck in Karachi while on her way to southern India due to some issues in her papers in 1960, she first observed leprosy patients in Karachi and after observing their plight and conditions, she decided to stay in Pakistan and work for the treatment and welfare of leprosy patients, who were used to be abandoned by family members and relatives after contracting the infectious disease.

“Dr. Ruth Pfau established the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center, which she named after the founder of the Congregation of Daughters of the Heart of Mary (DHM) in Karachi and strived for control of the dreaded disease in Pakistan. Due to her continued struggle and efforts, leprosy was controlled in Pakistan by 1996 and Pakistan became the first country to control the infectious disease in the WHO-Emro region”, Mervyn Lobo informed.

Dr. Ruth Pfau received numerous accolades for her services, including the Order of Merit (Germany) and Sitara-i- Quaid i Azam in 1969, Hilal-e-Imtiaz in 1979, Hilal-e-Pakistan in 1989, Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2002, Doctor of Science (DSc), honoris causa by the Aga Khan University, Karachi in 2004 and Nishan-e-Quaid-e-Azam for public service in 2010. She also received several German awards, e.g. the German Staufer Medal in Gold in 2015.

She was born in Leipzig, Germany, on 9 September 1929, had four sisters and one brother. After World War II, when the Russians occupied East Germany she escaped to West Germany along with her family, and studied medicine at Mainz.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi has expressed sorrow and grief over the sad demise of Dr. Ruth Pfau and on the request of Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, announced a state funeral for the lady, who abandoned her country, family and people for Pakistan and spent her entire life to serve ailing humanity in Pakistan.

In his message to the nation, PM Abbassi said the entire (Pakistani) nation is indebted to Dr. Ruth Pfao for her selfeless and unmatched services for eradication of leprosy. “She gave new hope to innumerable people and proved through her illustrious toil that serving humanity knows no boundaries. We are proud of her exemplary services and she will remain in our hearts as a shining symbol in times ahead.

“Ruth Pfau may have been born in Germany, her heart was always in Pakistan. 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”, the prime minister maintained.

In the meanwhile, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa Thursday expressed grief over the death of Dr Ruth Pfau, the founder of the National Leprosy Control Programme in Pakistan. In a message issued here, the COAS said, "We shall remember you as Ambassador of humanity and for selfless services to the people of Pakistan. 

Condolences poured in not only from Pakistan but also from the entire world and dignitaries and people from different walks of life expressed their deep sorrow and grief over the death of ‘Pakistani Mother Teresa’, terming it a great loss for the people of Pakistan as well as the entire world.

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah rushed to Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center (MALC) in Karachi to offer condolence to the administration of MALC on the demise of Dr. Pfau and said her death has really moved him because she was a source of inspiration for him and others also.

“Having an angel-like personality, she was a masiha for the leprosy patients in Pakistan. Soft speaking and a caring person, Dr Pfau dedicated her entire life for fight against leprosy in Pakistan and before her death she successfully achieved her mission. “Now, we have to carry her mission forward,” he said.

The chief minister also visited the corner set up at the Center to pay her tribute, lit a candle for her and paid her a glowing tribute for her services and struggle to eradicate leprosy. “The Sindh government would always remember her services by naming a hospital in her name,” he announced. “May God rest her in the eternal peace,” he prayed.

German Consul-General in Karachi Rainer Schmiedchen said he and the team of the Consulate-General of Germany in Karachi were deeply saddened by the demise of Dr. Ruth Pfau, founder of the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC) and mastermind of Pakistan’s National Leprosy Control Program.

“As patron of MALC, I had the honour to co-operate with Ruth in joint projects and in many board meetings. She always inspired us with her medical expertise, with her dedication to the patients and with her warm-hearted sense of humor," Rainer Schmiedchen said.

German CG Schmiedchen recalled his interactions with Dr. Pfau as the most celebrated moments of his tenure in Karachi, saying he always regarded her as the pinnacle of empathy and dedication and paid tribute to Dr. Pfau for her selfless and untiring efforts in the field of humanitarian work.

After announcement of a state funeral for Dr. Pfau, the MALC administration announced that her funeral mass would be held on Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 11:00am at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and thereafter she will be laid in the Christian Cemetery in Karachi (Gora Qabrustan).

“People from Germany, different parts of Pakistan and many other countries of the world have wished to attend her funeral service. The Government of Pakistan has announced a state funeral for her and that’s why we have decided to lay her to rest on August 19," Mr. Lobo, CEO of the MALC said.