Dr. Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau NQA, HPk, HI (born 9 September 1929) is a German-Pakistani nun and a member of the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary who has devoted the last 50 years of life to fighting leprosy in Pakistan. In 1996, Pakistan was declared by the World Health Organization to have controlled leprosy, one of the first countries in Asia to achieve this goal.
Dr. Pfau was born in Leipzig, Germany on 9 September 1929. She had four sisters and one brother. After World War II when the Russians occupied East Germany she escaped to West Germany along with her family and chose medicine as her future career. In 1949 she studied medicine at Mainz. She was not satisfied with her life. She wanted to do something more: She joined a Catholic order and eventually went to Pakistan.
In 1960 Ruth decided to dedicate the rest of her life to the people of Pakistan and their battle against Leprosy outbreaks. She came to Karachi and visited a leprosy colony on McLeod Road behind the City Railway Station. Here she decided that the care of patients would be her life’s calling. She started with medical treatment for the Leprosy patients in a hut in this slumquarter. The Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre was founded and social work for the leprosy patients and their family members was started by Dr. I. K. Gill. A Leprosy Clinic was bought in April 1963 and patients from all over Karachi, Pakistan and even from Afghanistan came for treatment.
Since that time the work grew fast and small treatment centers were established in Karachi and all over Pakistan, training for paramedical workers and social workers were given and health education started to get over prejudices and fear. Dr. Pfau went to the far off areas of Pakistan where there were no medical facilities for leprosy patients. She collected donations in Germany and Pakistan and cooperated with hospitals in Rawalpindi and Karachi. In recognition of her service to the country, she was awarded Pakistani citizenship in 1988. On 9 September 1999 Archbishop Simeon Anthony Pereira of Karachi celebrated a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate Sr. Pfau’s 70th birthday.
Awards and Recognition
Ruth Pfau is recognised in Pakistan and abroad as a distinguished human being and has been awarded many prizes and medals. Sister Ruth Pfau was among recipients of civilian awards at President’s House on Pakistan Day 23 March 1989. Sister Pfau received the Hilal-i-Pakistan award for her work with leprosy patients. Speaking at a function in Islamabad on 30 January 2000, to mark the 47th World Leprosy Day, President Rafiq Tarar praised Sister Ruth Pfau, who built up the National Leprosy Control Program in Pakistan, for working not only for those afflicted with leprosy, but also for those with TB. On the occasion of Pakistan Independence Day on 14 August 2010, the President of Pakistan awarded the very high civil award of Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam to Dr. Pfau for public service. In 2010 after her work helping people “nobody else is willing or able, or ever thought of helping,” people displaced by Pakistan’s recent deadly flooding, she is being hailed as Pakistan’s ‘Mother Teresa’.
1969: Order of Merit (Germany)
1969: Sitara i Quaid i Azam
2002: Ramon Magsaysay Award
April 2003: Jinnah Award for 2002.
2004: Doctor of Science (DSc), honoris causa. Aga Khan University, Karachi.
2010 Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam for public service.