Dr. Ruth Pfau, a German nun who was known as the “mother of leprosy patients” in Pakistan, died Thursday at the age of 87. She passed away in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan.

Pfau was a well-known doctor in Pakistan, and she worked for over five decades in the country treating the sick and afflicted. She was also referred to as “the Mother Theresa of Pakistan.”

Image credit: Varthabharati.in
Image credit: Varthabharati.in

She was born in Leipzig and studied Gynecology in Bonn before arriving at Karachi in 1960. She was to travel to India as a new member of the Hearts of Maria Order but was delayed by a visa problem and decided to stay in Pakistan.

Pfau created leprosy clinics that helped cured more than 50,000 afflicted

Pfau also chose to stay in Karachi after seeing the astounding number of slum dwellers who suffered from leprosy. She once said her deciding moment came when she visited a leprosy ghetto behind a Karachi railway station and saw a crippled man crawling on his knees and hands through the dirt.

She was appointed as a national adviser on leprosy and tuberculosis programs in 1979 by the Pakistani government. In 1980, she headed the Maria Adelaide Leprosy Center (MALC) in Karachi, and she also began expanding her group’s work to Afghanistan.

There are 157 MALC centers in Pakistan now, and they have reportedly healed more than 50,000 leprosy patients. In fact, by 1996, the rate of new leprosy infections in Pakistan reached a historic low.

“Leprosy elimination is successfully being achieved; however, elimination is not the end of leprosy,” said Pfau at the time, according to Smithsonian.com.

Pfau continued to raise public awareness of leprosy in her last years, highlighting that there were still 300 to 400 new cases of the sickness reported each year and that it would take another 20 years to eliminate it from Pakistan.

‘Her heart was always in Pakistan’

The doctor received many awards in her lifetime, including the Albert-Schweitzer medal in 2004, and German and Pakistani state awards. MALC also supported victims after the Pakistani floods in 2011.

Pfau was interviewed in 2015 by Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, and she was asked if she feared that one day she would become indifferent to the suffering of others.

“I don’t think so. At some stage, it becomes clear to yourself: Life is just so. One should not succumb to the temptation not to look,” she said at the time, according to Deutsche Welle.

She was also questioned why she chose to leave Germany. Pfau said that she left Germany in 1960 as Germany’s post-war “economic miracle” was beginning, but she noticed that some of its citizens were still not happy, on “the sunny side of life.”

“That got my nerves,” she said. “I’d experience the war in Leipzig as a young girl, the bombs, the complete misery. I wanted the best for everyone. But that is exactly what did not happen.”

She said that her work as a leprosy doctor eased her sense of guilt about unfairness in the world. Pfau said that Pakistan, a “wonderfully beautiful” country, had become her heartland. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said Pfau would receive an official state funeral because while “she may have been born in Germany, her heart was always in Pakistan.”

Source: Deutsche Welle