In a country where the phenomenon of brain drain is quite common and talented men and women consistently depart in their pursuit for greener pastures, Dr Pfau was a breath of fresh air.
Dr Pfau first visited Pakistan in 1960 and was so touched by the plight of leprosy victims that she made a decision to stay forever in the country to treat them.
Colin Dwyer at NPR reports that Pfau's order, the Daughters of the Hearts of Mary, sent her to India when she was 29 years old. En route to work in India, visa complications forced her to break the journey in Karachi, where she visited a lepers' colony.
She was also known for rescuing children with leprosy, who had been banished to caves and cattle pens for years by their parents, who were afraid of contracting the disease themselves. He further said that she lived in the prayers of all those who were cured from leprosy as a result of her efforts. She founded the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Karachi in 1962 and later set up its branches in all provinces of Pakistan, including Gilgit-Baltistan, and treated over 50,000 families.
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Dr Pfau was granted Pakistani citizenship in 1988.
Due to her efforts, Pakistan became one of the first countries in Asia to be declared free of leprosy in 1966. "Leprosy elimination is successfully being achieved; however, elimination is not the end of leprosy", said Pfau at the time.
I recall having met Dr Pfau during my childhood at various events hosted by the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre or the Ministry of Health where my father served.
In collaboration with the government Pfau expanded leprosy treatment centres in more than 150 cities and towns across Pakistan, training doctors, treating thousands of victims and helping establish a national programme to bring the disease under control. And even after that, those disfigured by the disease would still need help overcoming the physical disabilities caused by the disease and the social stigma associated with it. Her death is indeed a great loss for the entire nation. "But we never could go in for divorce because we had too many children".
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Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced a state funeral for Dr Pfau, saying she "may have been born in Germany, but her heart was always in Pakistan".
Chief of Army Staff Qamar Jawed Bajwa referred to Dr Ruth as an "ambassador of humanity" and said "she will always be remembered" for her services. "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".
The nun won many honors and awards for her work, both from Pakistan and Germany. Another book by Sister Pfau, titled The Last Word is Love: Adventure, Medicine, War and God, will be available in November.
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