Remembering Mother Teresa of Pakistan, Dr. Ruth Pfau (1929-2017)
Although born in Germany, Dr. Ruth came to Pakistan at the dawn of a young nation, looking to make lives better for those afflicted by leprosy, and in doing so, found her a home.
Leprosy, a disfiguring and stigmatizing ailment also known as Hansen’s disease, can now be prevented and even cured after early diagnosis.
Less than four decades after Dr. Pfau began her campaign to contain leprosy, a mildly contagious bacterial infection, the World Health Organization declared it under control in Pakistan in 1996, ahead of most other Asian countries (although several hundred new cases are still reported there annually).
In 1960, due to a passport foul-up, fate landed Dr. Ruth in Pakistan where she visited a leper colony in Karachi and met one of the thousands of Pakistani patients afflicted with the disease.
“He must have been my age — I was at this time not yet 30 — and he crawled on hands and feet into this dispensary, acting as if this was quite normal,” she told the BBC in 2010, “as if someone has to crawl there through that slime and dirt on hands and feet, like a dog.”
That one visit enabled her to make decision which changed not only her but thousands of lives.
In 1956, Dr. Pfau joined the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center, opened in Karachi slums and soon transformed it into the hub of a network of 157 medical centers that treated tens of thousands of Pakistanis infected with leprosy.
The center was funded mostly by German, Austrian and Pakistani donors, and also treated victims of the 2000 drought in Baluchistan, the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir and devastating floods in 2010.
Once leprosy was declared under control, the center also focused on tuberculosis, blindness and other diseases and on disabilities, some caused by land mines in war-torn Afghanistan.
For her immense contributions to the Pakistani society, Dr. Pfau was often compared to Mother Teresa.
“When you receive such a calling, you cannot turn it down, for it is not you who has made the choice,” she said. “For it is not you who has made the choice. God has chosen you for himself.”
Dr. Pfau wrote four books about her work in Pakistan, including “To Light a Candle” (1987), which was translated into English.