By: Syeda Sadia
Such painful sores and bumps on the skin, making it insensitive so much so that rats can easily eat the mutilated parts of the body of an alive person, are enough to frighten even the loved ones of the patient; such conditions often lead to the abandonment of patients by the family, even the parents confine their children to cattle pens or in a single room. Leprosy was not easy to control in a poverty stricken country where ignorance was a problem greater than the disease itself. In early years of Pakistan, Leprosy was a widespread disease flourishing in the dirty outskirts of city, the areas stinking of the filthy water accumulated there and infested with rats.
The victims of leprosy were treated as outcasts and the disease was considered as the wrath of god; patients were left untreated leading to falling off their limbs ultimately ending in a complete paralysis. In such helpless situation, Dr Ruth Pfau rose as a light of hope, a German physician, who came in Pakistan for treating afflicting people. There are many people who work for alleviating the ills of others but there are very few who dedicate whole of their lives in soothing the pains of others, among these very few is Dr Ruth Pfau; in 1960’s, when she arrived in Pakistan, she didn’t have a plan to settle down but after viewing the maltreated situation of leprosy patients her kind heart couldn’t decide to go back .
When she first visited the patients of leprosy, she was shocked to see that they were living in dirty slums, infested with rats, suffering from a real danger of their wounded limbs being eaten by rats; this was turning point in her life and in the history of Pakistan too. She decided to work to cure the disease which was considered most contagious and filthy; without any resources on hand to start a hospital she made a makeshift clinic and began her work. Soon her struggle won the attention of national and international people and aid started pouring in her project. She succeeded in founding National Leprosy Control Programme in Pakistan; many doctors trained by Ruth Pfau helped her in extending her project throughout the country. Ruth Pfau was not an individual but an institution in her own self, washing and dressing the stinking wounds of people who have been abandoned by the society and their own people; her selfless struggle didn’t remain without fruits.
Marie Adelaide Leprosy centers were established in every Pakistani province and in 1996 leprosy had been a controlled disease. The struggle and sacrifices of Ruth Pfau were different because they were not in the name of patriotism or religion; the most inspiring aspect of her struggle was her love for humanity, a love and kindness towards the pain of others irrespective of their religion and nationality. Immeasurable is her selflessness in fighting disease which was unnoticed and untreated except confining patients in cattle pens and isolated rooms unless she attracted the national attention and aid to establish hospitals and provide treatments.
An end to the rampant leprosy in Pakistan cannot be attributed to anyone else except the services of Dr .Ruth Pfau; no award can justify her struggle but only the continuity of services once initiated by her is the best reward we can offer her. The death of Dr.Ruth Pfau, a German national, who dedicated her life for Pakistan, is an irreplaceable loss; her death is an end of an era, an era infused with the love of humanity, an era not despising the foul-smelling wounds of others; it was an era which would not come back because people like Ruth Pfau are born once in centuries and leave behind a space which remains unfilled for many centuries.