The death of Dr Ruth Pfau at the age of 87 in a Karachi hospital is a loss to the nation. Few individuals live lives that can be truly described as ‘great’ — but Dr Ruth did. She founded the National Leprosy Control Programme which became the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Karachi and then spread out to serve every province as well as Gilgit-Baltistan. Over 50,000 patients have been treated in Karachi alone. Her feet touched every part of the country from far-flung remote areas to the teeming sprawling cities. Her hands brought solace and comfort to countless thousands and her dedication saw leprosy diminished and brought under control in Pakistan.
She came to Pakistan in 1960 as a member of the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary. She said in 2015 that she could have left and returned to Germany to a life of quiet retirement, but she chose to stay until the end and will be buried in the country that she served for over half a century. Like most of the women that choose a nun’s life, she was modest, quiet and unassuming, but with an inner core of titanium steel. She has been honoured around the world and not only in Pakistan, but she wore her many awards and accolades lightly. It was her struggle that led the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1996 to declare Pakistan to be one of the first countries in Asia to have controlled leprosy.
Whilst leprosy eradication was the mission for which she is best known she and her organisation were at the forefront in a range of national disasters, including the catastrophic floods of 2010. Her hands were there in the Balochistan drought of 2000 and the Kashmir earthquake of 2005. Awards and plaudits aside it is as well to remember that the men and women of Pakistan — as well as those from other countries such as Dr Ruth — who choose to join the Christian religious orders, form a cohort that for most of the life of the nation has delivered education and healthcare to possibly many millions over the decades. We truly do mourn her death. One of the greats has left us.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2017.
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