As nation celebrates Pakistan Day and good wishes continue from heads of various states amid spectacular events, various prominent characters were found, including from political fraternity and armed forces while exploring post-independence history on this day. But when history is searched with fine-teeth combs, some charismatic persons were found, who did not even ‘belong,’ but they served the Pakistanis till their last breathe out of their love for the country came into existence on August 14, 1947, around seven years after Lahore Resolution was passed on March 23, 1940.
Amid such persons, Dr Ruth Katharina Martha Pfau will be on top of the list as she devoted more than 55 years of her life to fighting leprosy, an infectious disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms and other parts, in Pakistan. A symbol of selflessness Dr. Ruth Pfau had been hailed as Pakistan’s ‘Mother Teresa’. Dr. Pfau first went to Pakistan when she was 29 years old in 1960.
As a part of the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary, her devotion to doing something in and for Pakistan took her to become Pakistan’s leprosy fighter. She witnessed leprosy in Pakistan for the first time in 1960 and returned from Germany to set up clinics across the country in 1961.
Dr Pfau, who was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1929, contributed to the establishment of 157 leprosy clinics across Pakistan that treated over 56,780 patients. Due to her continued efforts, in 1996 the World Health Organisation declared Pakistan one of the first countries in Asia to have controlled leprosy.
She died on August 10, 2017 at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi after being admitted there due to respiratory problems on 4 August 2017. The state funeral for her was held at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, in front of which the flags of Pakistan and Vatican City were flown at half-mast. Her coffin was wrapped in the Pakistani flag while a 19-gun salute was offered by contingents of all three wings of the Pakistan Armed Forces.
In recognition of her services, Fazaia Ruth Pfau Medical College and Dr. Ruth Pfau Hospital are named after her in Karachi. Among other awards and honours, Pfau received Hilal-i-Pakistan on March 23, 1989.