DERA GHAZI KHAN: In an area where at one point eight out of 10 members of a family suffered from leprosy, now only 10 patients are under treatment through the efforts of legendary Dr Ruth Pfau and her team, Dawn learnt on World Leprosy Day on Sunday.

Jhandi in Tuman Buzdar tribal area is located in the mountainous Sulaiman range and is among the highest peaks of Punjab. It is home to the Khanani sub-tribe of Buzdar tribe with a population of 1,000. People living in the area had no access to basic civic facilities, health facilities were also very poor, local women suffered from night blindness due to malnutrition and in the early ‘80s leprosy was diagnosed among residents of Jhandi.

Local health technician ‘doctor’ Aslam, who only has an FSc degree, said in 1980, Dr Ruth arrived on a horse through Balochistan. She had been working against leprosy in Karachi since 1968 and diagnosed leprosy among the residents here and started treatment. It was then found out that if a family had 10 members, eight out of them had leprosy.

Dr Ruth paid several visits to the area to help control the disease, which was finally alleviated in 1996. Dr Ruth last visited the area in 2013, Dr Aslam added.

He further told Dawn the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre had been established in 2000 in Warpragh, Jhandi by Dr Ruth and her team where now only 10 patients were under treatment, including six women and two children. He said he was chosen in 2007 for getting training by locally trained health technicians to treat patients of leprosy in his area. He received the training in Karachi for two and a half years.

Bahar Khan, a resident, shared his memories of Dr Ruth’s first visit, saying her arrival was a blessing for them and changed their lives forever. Before Dr Ruth visit, they thought night blindness and leprosy were a curse by God and not due to malnutrition or lack of basic facilities. He called Dr Ruth “Mother Teresa of Jhandi”.

Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2016