Legendary Dr Ruth Pfau By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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Legendary Dr Ruth Pfau
By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

Dr Ruth Pfau was no doubt a legendary brave lady whose life-long struggle resulted in complete defeat of the leprosy disease in our beloved country. Leprosy is a very harmful disease that causes discoloration of the skin, sores, and disfigurements. The German-born nun and doctor Ruth arrived in Pakistan in 1960. After achieving success in her five-decade long battle against Leprosy, she passed away recently in Karachi. Although, her motherland was Germany but due to her love for the people of Pakistan, she was also known as Mother Teresa of Pakistan.

The Government of Pakistan announced state funeral for her, which was held at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Karachi. The flags of Pakistan and Vatican City were raised at half mast to show respect, grief, and sorrow. Draped in the Pakistani flag, her coffin was offered a 19-gun salute by Pak Army. The ceremony was broadcasted live on Pakistan Television which reflected the intensity of shock on this humanitarian loss. Dr Ruth was the first Non-Muslim to have a state funeral in Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The active participation of President Mamnoon Hussain, Army Chef Qamar Javed Bajwa, Air Chief Marshal Suhail Aman, Chief Justice Sindh High Court Ahmed Ali M. Shiekh, Governor and Chief Minister Sindh, and other the top political and military leadership was in fact a brilliant expression of national harmony. People from different walks of life including Christian, Muslim and Hindu community were also present to pay tribute.

Dr Pfau was born on 9 September 1929 in Leipzig, Germany, where she witnessed the horrific World War -II. After the Soviet occupation of East Germany, she migrated to West Germany. Besides completing her studies in medicine, she became active member of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, a Catholic religious institute, with a focus on serving humanity. She believed that “Not all of us can prevent a war; but most of us can help ease sufferings—of the body and the soul.”

In 1960, Dr Ruth arrived in Karachi with the hope of acquiring an Indian visa from here. She was interested to meet another legendary humanitarian Mother Teresa there but due to strict visa policy, she was denied entry to India. During her stay in Karachi, she came to know about the miseries of leprosy patients. Although, leprosy has affected humanity for thousands of years but she was shocked to observe that how brutally the country’s most vulnerable people were treated in Pakistani society. The most painful attitude was shown by close relatives who used to throw the patients outside the cities like garbage.

There was a misconception regarding the poor patients that the disease is result of their sins. Separate leper colonies were founded across the country outside the human population. The plights of leprosy patients persuaded her to stay in Pakistan where she spend rest of her life. At that time, her organization was running a small dispensary on McLeod Road to look after the leprosy patients.

Dr Ruth prepared a comprehensive strategy to combat leprosy which was considered as incurable disease. She launched an effective awareness campaign that God loves all His creatures and thus, the patients of leprosy deserve to be treated with love and care. She worked hard to change the mindset that considered lepers “untouchables”. With the support of another philanthropist Dr. I. K. Gill, the leprosy center formed by Dr Ruth in Karachi was upgraded in to leprosy hospital in 1965. She used to travel throughout the country to trace leprosy patients to provide them medical treatment free of cost. In 1968, National Leprosy Control Programme was launched as a result of her efforts and very soon she succeed for setting up 156 leprosy-control centres in different parts of country.

Besides language barrier, another major hurdle she faced was to secure financial funds to carry on her noble struggle against leprosy. She knocked every door in this regard and even went to her motherland Germany to collect funds. Due to her tireless struggle, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Pakistan first Asian country where leprosy was controlled successfully. As many as 60 thousands patients were treated which enabled them to play their role as a normal citizen for the betterment of society. Government of Pakistan has awarded various medals including Hilal-i-Imtiaz, Hilal-i-Pakistan, Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam and Sitara-i-Quaid-i-Azam. Pakistani governemnt has also arranged her meeting with Mother Teresa, who traveled from India.

People of Pakistan are thankful to Dr Ruth for dedicating her life to Pakistan. She was very kind hearted lady and no doubt a blessing to our beloved country. Like other sensitive peace-loving people, she also became upset due to unrest in the name of religion. She believed that the purpose of religion is to serve humanity. In an appeal to people of Pakistan, she reportedly urged to stop killings over having different religious beliefs otherwise, according to her, happiness cannot be achieved.

Today, Dr Ruth is no more among us but we must follow her footprints to transform our society into a civilized, tolerant and peaceful society where all segments join hands together . The disease of leprosy is controlled in Pakistan due to her selfless struggle but there is also dire need for our own collective efforts to control social evils in our society which are damaging our national integrity day by day.

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