ISLAMABAD – German nun Ruth Pfau, considered a contributor to ending leprosy in Pakistan, died on Thursday in Karachi at the age of 87.
Pfau had dedicated more than 50 years of her life to fighting leprosy in Pakistan, which earned her the name “Light to the Lepers.”
“With deep sorrow we announce the sad demise of Dr. Ruth Katharina Martha Pfau,” read a statement of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, to which she belonged.
Two weeks ago, the nun had been admitted to a hospital in Karachi following a deterioration of her health before passing away during an operation.
Pfau is considered to be among the most significant people behind the end of leprosy in the country, as the founder of the National Leprosy Control Programme in Pakistan and Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC).
Pfau studied medicine in Germany in the 1950s and joined the Daughters of the Heart of Mary before leaving for India via Karachi, however, a visa problem kept her in the financial capital of Pakistan, where she went on to live for 57 years.
In 1963, she founded MALC with the opening of a clinic; five years later she persuaded the Pakistani government to start a program against leprosy across the country, and later extended it to those afflicted by tuberculosis and blindness.
Three decades later, the World Health Organization declared Pakistan free of leprosy, making it among the first nations in the region with such an achievement.
In recognition of her work, the government awarded Pfau the nation’s second highest civilian honor, Hilal-i-Imtiaz, in 1979.
She was granted Pakistani nationality in 1988, and in 1989 she was presented with the Hilal-i-Pakistan, the country’s highest civilian honor.
Soon after the announcement of her death, homage began pouring in from the Pakistani authorities.
“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,” Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said in a statement.
“Dr Pfau’s services to end leprosy in Pakistan cannot be forgotten. She left her homeland and made Pakistan her home to serve humanity. Pakistani nation salutes Dr Pfau and her great tradition to serve humanity will be continued,” President Mamnoon Hussain said in another statement.
“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” Pfau used to say.