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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

State funeral held for 'Pakistan's Mother Teresa'

Many Pakistani dignitaries attended the funeral of Ruth Pfau, a German-born nun and doctor 

Army troops and others carry the casket of Ruth Pfau, a German physician and nun known as Pakistan's Mother Teresa, from the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center to her state funeral in Karachi, Pakistan, Saturday, August. 19, 2017.Fareed Khan / AP
Army troops and others carry the casket of Ruth Pfau, a German physician and nun known as Pakistan's Mother Teresa, from the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center to her state funeral in Karachi, Pakistan, Saturday, August. 19, 2017.Fareed Khan / AP

Pakistan honoured a German-born nun and physician with a state funeral on Saturday that was attended by hundreds of mourners.

Ruth Pfau earned international acclaim as "Pakistan's Mother Theresa" by devoting her life to the eradication of leprosy in the Muslim-majority nation. She died on August 10 at the age of 87 in Karachi. State-run television broadcast live footage of her casket being carried by a military guard into the city's St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Hundreds of people attended the service at the cathedral, including President Mamnoon Hussain, army chief General Qamar Javed, senior government officials, Muslim clerics and diplomats. She was later buried in a nearby cemetery.

Martha Fernando, who worked with Pfau at her Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center, said the German physician's death was a great loss to humanity. "There is no one like her and there won't be any replacement to her. We pray to God to send people like her again to this world so that they could continue serving people," she said.

Pakistan suffered high rates of leprosy up until the mid-1990s. Pfau played a key role in efforts to bring the disease under control.

Pfau was born in Leipzig, Germany, into a Protestant Christian family of six children. When that region of Germany fell under Soviet occupation after the Second World War, her family escaped to West Germany, where she studied medicine at the University of Mainz. There she met a Dutch woman, who had survived a Nazi concentration camp and had dedicated her life to "preaching love and forgiveness."

Pfau converted to Catholicism and in 1957 joined the Daughters of the Heart of Mary religious order which sent her to southern India. However, due to visa problems, she found herself stuck in Karach in 1960. She never left. She started treating leprosy sufferers in a hut in a city slum, which eventually became the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre, and also founded a social work organisation for patients and their family members, later branching out into tuberculosis treatment and blindness prevention. She travelled widely all over Pakistan and Afghanistan, treating patients in remote areas with no medical facilities and rescuing leprosy sufferers who had either been abandoned by their families or locked in small rooms, and raised funds both in Pakistan and her native Germany.

In 1979 the Pakistan government made her an adviser to the ministry of health.In 1988, they made her a Pakistani citizen.

Pakistan suffered high rates of leprosy up until the 1990s. But in 1996, the World Health organisation declared Pakistan to be one of the first countries in Asia to bring the disease under control.The number of cases dropped from more than 19,000 in the early 1980s to 531 in 2016.

In his tribute to President Hussain said, "The Pakistani nation salutes Dr Pfau and her great tradition to serve humanity will be continued.

Prime minister Shahid Khaqan said, "Dr Ruth Pfau may have been born in Germany but her heart was always in Pakistan. She came here at the dawn of a young nation looking to make lives better for those afflicted by disease and in doing so, found herself a home. We will remember her for her courage, her loyalty, her service to the eradication of leprosy and most of all for her patriotism."