The third death anniversary of Dr. Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau, who devoted more than 55 years of her life to fighting leprosy in Pakistan, is being observed on Monday.
Pfau was born on September 9, 1929, in Leipzig, Germany, to Lutheran parents, Walter and Martha Pfau. She was the fourth of five daughters, and also had a baby brother.
As a teenager, she barely survived World War II; on the night of December 4, 1943, at the age of 14, she witnessed a bombing that destroyed her house.
Later, she was inspired to become a doctor after her baby brother became ill and died.
After the war, at the age of 19, she followed her father to Wiesbaden in West Germany, where she pursued an education in medicine at the University of Mainz in Marburg.
While a student, she met an elderly Dutch Christian woman, a concentration camp survivor, who had dedicated her life to “preaching love and forgiveness”.
After rejecting a marriage proposal from a fellow student, she was baptized in the Evangelical tradition in 1951, before her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1953.
Following her conversion, she joined the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary in 1957 at the age of 28.
She traveled to various parts of Pakistan with the aim of rescuing patients who were abandoned by their families.
During her visits, she saw patients who suffered from leprosy, a disease that causes discoloration of the skin, sores, and disfigurements.
She moved from Germany to Pakistan in 1961.
In 1963, she set up the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre. The clinic received patients from all over Karachi and other parts of Pakistan, as well as people from neighboring Afghanistan.
Pfau raised funds to refurbish the clinic, building a network of over 150 medical centers. She also trained doctors and founded Pakistan’s National Leprosy Control Programme in 1965.
In 1979, she was appointed as the federal adviser on leprosy to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare of the Pakistani government.
Moreover in 1988, Pakistan recognized her work by giving her citizenship.
On August 6, 2017, she was admitted to the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi due to respiratory problems.
She was put on a ventilator after her condition worsened, but she refused life support.
In the early morning of August 10, 2017, Pfau died at the age of 88.