KARACHI: Amma, or mother, as German-Pakistani Dr Ruth Pfau was called by her patients, is no more. The leprosy healer passed away on Thursday morning at the age of 87.
Patients at Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC) in Karachi’s Saddar area are in stunned silence. Many of them were abandoned by their families due to their sickness. With Dr Pfau gone, they lost the only mother that loved them.
They have lost a person with whom they shared their most honest feelings. For over 50 years, she was always there to listen, talk, or simply offer a shoulder to cry on.
While the treatment they receive at the centre continues, it will be without the heartwarming effect of amma’s beaming smile and magical hand.
On March 8, 1960, Dr Pfau stopped in Karachi while on her way to India for assignment as a nun with the Daughters of the Heart of Mary. While in the city, she went to a leper colony off McLeod Road (now II Chundrigar Road). It was a turning point in her life. She resolved to stay here and dedicate her life to treating leprosy.
She knew that leprosy does not just cause physical symptoms, but psychological ones as well due to societal attitude towards people with the disfiguring disease.
“She embraced us without a care for the stigmas attached with the disease. Most people would not even approach us, let alone talk to us, but she was always there. She would clean our wounds herself. She always gave us the hope that everything will be alright,” recalls Syed Qasim alias Qasim Baba, a patient at MALC, Karachi.
Qasim is from Kohat. His symptoms first developed when he was around 13. He is now in his 70s and has been at the hospital for around 12 years. Before that, he was admitted in MALC, Peshawar.
Qasim said Dr Pfau was an angel sent by God to help his people. “Besides treating us for free, she would even try to help us financially from her own pocket. She ensured that we feel like home here. No problem could trouble us.”
Aminzada, a patient from Swabi, said no amount of appreciation can justify the work Dr Pfau did for humanity. “We would have been out on the streets, yearning for death, if Dr Pfau was not here.”
He also noted her serene manner. “Due to our frustration with our disease, we would sometimes vent by yelling at her, but she would not say anything. Her personality cannot be described in words.”
Dr Pfau’s colleagues, students, and patients said she was also a role model for selfless living. “She used to make a point that she was not going to live in the city, but rather in the peripheries where the leprosy patients were staying.”
Some said that because Dr Pfau’s selflessness was driven by the horrors of the world she saw when she was still a child. She was a little girl growing up in Germany in the Middle of World War II, and saw what the country went through during and after the war. Those experiences may have driven her to become a beacon of light.
Dr Pfau’s endeavours have helped bring down the leprosy rate in Pakistan by over 97 percent, and the disease has been recognised as ‘controlled’ in the country since 1996. The organisation she established has spread across the country with over 150 centres. She would always say: “Love will always have the last word.”
A few hours after her passing, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced a state funeral for the German nun in recognition of her services to her adopted homeland.
“The entire nation is indebted to Ruth Pfau for her selfless and unmatched services for eradication of leprosy,” Abbasi said in a statement.
She, the PM added, gave new hope to innumerable people and proved through her illustrious toil that serving humanity knows no boundaries. “We are proud of her exemplary services and she will remain in our hearts as a shining symbol in times ahead.”
The National Assembly also observed a moment of silence in her honour.
Her funeral mass will be held on Saturday at 11am at St Patrick’s Cathedral and she will be buried at Gora Qabristan.