Ruth Pfau, a German doctor and nun who devoted her life to eradicating leprosy in Pakistan, died on Thursday in Karachi. She was 87.
Often called Pakistan’s Mother Teresa, Pfau settled in the country in 1960 and founded the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Karachi. She was instrumental in making Pakistan leprosy-free in 1996, She was granted Pakistani citizenship in 1988.
Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said Pfau may have been born in Germany, but her heart has always been in Pakistan. He added that a state funeral will be held on August 19 in recognition of her services.
Salwa Zainab, a spokeswoman at Pfau’s office, said Friday a funeral service will be held Aug. 19 in Karachi, where Pfau died on Thursday.
She said leprosy remained a problem in Pakistan from the 1950s until about 1996 and that Pfau played a key role in efforts by Pakistan and the World Health Organization to bring the disease under control.
Zainab said Pfau was a “beacon of hope for underprivileged” people.
President Mamnoon Hussain also paid tribute to Pfau.
Harald Meyer-Porzky from the Ruth Pfau Foundation in Würzburg said Dr Pfau had “given hundreds of thousands of people a life of dignity”.
Dr Pfau was born in Leipzig in 1929 and saw her home destroyed by bombing during World War Two.
She studied medicine and was later sent to southern India by her order, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, but a visa issue meant she became stuck in Karachi, where she first became aware of leprosy.
Dr Pfau rescued disfigured and suffering children who had been confined to caves and cattle pens for years by their parents, who were terrified that they were contagious.
She trained Pakistani doctors and attracted foreign donations, founding Pakistan’s National Leprosy Control Programme and the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre, which has a presence in every Pakistani province.
Dr Pfau also won praise for her efforts in helping the victims of devastating floods in south-western Pakistan in 2010.
She received numerous honours for her work, including the Hilal-e-Imtiaz – Pakistan’s second highest civilian award – in 1979, the Hilal-e-Pakistan in 1989 and the German Staufer Medal in 2015.
She wrote four books in German about her work in Pakistan, including To Light A Candle, which has been translated into English.
Her last rites will be performed on 19 August at St Patrick’s Church in Karachi and she will then be buried at the Gora Qabristan Christian cemetery in the city.