For the first time in the recent history of Pakistan, a Christian, who is actually a German but adopted Pakistan has her homeland, is being honoured with a state funeral.
Dr Ruth Pfau, who was 87, died on 10 August. Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Shahid Abbasi, announced the state funeral for “Pakistan’s Mother Teresa” in recognition of her monumental contribution in controlling the spread of leprosy in Pakistan. A notification issued by Atif Aziz, Sindh Law Deputy Secretary, said that the “national flag shall fly at half-mast on Saturday 19 August, 2017.”
The World Health Organization set the year 2000 as the target for controlling leprosy. Pakistan achieved it four years earlier, in 1996, becoming the first country in Asia to have successfully controlled the spread of the disease – a goal Dr Pfau achieved almost single-handedly.
Dr Ruth Katherine Martha Pfau was a Catholic nun who belonged to the congregation of Daughters of the Heart of Mary. When she arrived in Pakistan in 1960, thousands of families were affected by leprosy, a disease then considered incurable. Family members used to drop their affected loved ones at the Lepers’ Colony in Karachi.
In 1963, Dr Pfau turned a dispensary at the Lepers’ Colony (which was set up by the Catholic Church) into a hospital, and brought it into the heart of Karachi. The hospital was named after the founder of the congregation, Marie Adelaide de Cicé.
In 1961, Dr Zarina Fazlebhoy, a dermatologist, became the first Pakistani citizen to join the team of pioneers. The first technicians’ course was started there in 1965.
In 1968, her hospital, the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC), submitted its first proposal to the Government of Pakistan for the establishment of a National Leprosy Control Programme, which was eventually launched in 1984. A total of 175 leprosy treatment centres were set up across Pakistan to treat leprosy patients, of which 157 were run by MALC and 18 by a sister organisation, Aid to Leprosy Patients (ALP). Many healed patients were later inducted as employees at these centres.
The Government of Pakistan gave Dr Pfau honorary citizenship in 1988. She also received three of Pakistan’s highest honours – the Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam in 1969, the Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 1979 and the Nishan-e-Quaid-e-Azam in 2011.
In 2004, Aga Khan University conferred upon her an honorary degree of “Doctor of Science”. She also received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
The German government conferred on her The Order of the Cross in 1968, the Commanders’ Cross of the Order of Merit with Star in 1985, and the Bambi Award in 2012.
To read more about the life of Pakistan’s Mother Theresa, read Asif Aqeel’s article for the Daily Times.