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Sister Ruth Pfau dies at the age of 87 after a life serving lepers in Pakistan

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Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Immaculate Heart of Mary Dr. Sister Ruth Pfau, who founded the National Leprosy Control Programme and was in charge of the Marie Adelaide Society of Pakistan, died aged 87 after serving the Islamic republic for 57 years.

“Her patients call her Amma (mother). Our centre has a third generation of employees who had strong affiliation with her,” said Salwa Zainab, manager of resource mobilisation at the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC), speaking to AsiaNews.

“Leprosy is still carries a stigma in our country. Many families neither keep nor try to find a cure for such patients. The government must include this disease in general health.”

She spoke shortly after the visit of Syed Murad Ali Shah, chief minister of Sindh province, at the MLAC in the port city of Karachi. In a meeting with medical staff, Shah said that he appreciated her services.

“The whole country, especially our province, has lost a great humanist. We should continue her mission in the same manner”, he said.

Known as the Pakistani Mother Teresa, Sister Ruth Pfau passed away at a hospital in Karachi on yesterday after a long illness. Her funeral mass will be held on 19 August at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi announced a state funeral for her saying that the whole nation is indebted to Dr Ruth Pfau for her selfless and unmatched services to eradicate leprosy.

“She 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,” said the Prime Minister.

Several other national leaders also expressed their condolences on social media. Director General, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted prayers for Dr Ruth Pfau. “We shall remember you as Ambassador of humanity and for selfless services to the people of Pakistan. RIP, COAS.”

Former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan tweeted “Saddened to learn of Dr Ruth Pfau’s passing. Her spirit of selfless dedication leaves a void that will be difficult to fill.”

Similarly, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif took to the micro-blogging site saying “Really sorry to hear about Dr Ruth Pfau. What an incredible life she lived in the service of suffering humanity! She will be dearly missed.”

Sister Pfau served as personal adviser of military ruler General Zia-Ul-Haq and was awarded Pakistani citizenship in 1988 in appreciation for her services.

Through her efforts, in 1996, the World Health Organisation declared Pakistan one of the first countries in Asia to have controlled leprosy.

She was awarded the Hilal-e-Pakistan (the country’s second highest civilian award) in 1989, Hilal-e-Imtiaz in 1979 and Nishan-i-Quaid-i-Azam (highest civil awards) in 2010 by the government of Pakistan.

In 2015, the German consulate awarded Dr Pfau with the Staufer Medal in gold, its highest order of merit for service to the state.

The Marie Adelaide Society of Pakistan has treated over 50,000 leprosy patients in its 157 centres all over the country. Every year 12,000 Tuberculosis patients are treated and 7,000 cataract surgeries are done at these facilities.

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