International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    Dr Ruth Pfau

    Status Physician
    Country Germany


    Dr Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau, MD was born 9 September 1929, in Leipzig, Germany. She studied medicine in 1957 in what is now eastern Germany and subsequently joined the Order of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, whose motherhouse is in Paris. During a journey to India in 1960 she visited the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Clinic in Karachi, run by her Congregation in the “Beggar Colony” off McLeod Road. On seeing the plight of the persons affected with leprosy there she decided to stay on. From its early days of a ‘Hut’ made from fruit crates, Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre now has a main hospital with 80 beds and a large OPD with all necessary service facilities including a Physiotherapy unit and shoe workshop for deformed patients, partly manufacturing artificial limbs through networking with other NGOs, 11 sub-centres and a home for the handicapped patients in Karachi. The total number of patients registered up to 31 December 2005 in the 170 field units was 52,450. Pfau also started the first Leprosy Technicians’ course in 1965. Her training centre is recognized by the Government as the National Training Institute. By May 2006 at least 24 training courses had been completed and 467 technicians had been trained for the Government and private organizations, both from within the country and abroad.

    Dr Pfau has travelled to every nook and corner of Pakistan and, with assistance from international donor agencies, she has built a complete leprosy hospital at Karachi where leprosy patients are being treated - medically, socially and surgically. She has devoted her entire life to the treatment and control of leprosy. It is due to her efforts that Pakistan managed to control leprosy in 1996, four years before the period specified by the WHO. Consequently Pakistan is one of the first countries in the EMRO region where leprosy has been controlled and it is now on the way to becoming leprosy-free.

    Dr Ruth Pfau has received numerous awards over the last forty years:

    1968 “The Order of the Cross”, Federal Republic of Germany.

    1969 “Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam” Pakistan.

    1979 Appointment as Honorary Advisor on Leprosy to the Ministry of Health, Government of Pakistan

    • “Hilal-e-Imtiaz”, Pakistan.

    1985 “The Commanders Cross of the Order of Merit with Star”, Federal Republic of Germany.

    1988 Honorary Pakistani citizenship.

    1989 “Hilal-e-Pakistan”.

    1991 “Damien-Dutton Award”, the Damien-Dutton Society, USA.

    • “Albert Schweitzer Gesellschaft Award”, Federal Republic of Austria.

    2002 “Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Services” Government of the Philippines.

    2003 “The Jinnah Award”, the Jinnah Society

    • “In The Name of Allah Award”, Idara Wiqar-e-Adab.

    2004 Degree of Doctor of Science (DSc), Honoris Causa, Aga Khan University, Karachi.

    2005 “Marion Doenhoff-Prize”, Germany.

    External links (not regulated under the ILA project):

    About the book by Zia Mutaher, a fellow worker at the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre.


    Zia Mutaher. Serving the Unserved. A Biography of Dr Ruth Pfau.

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