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The height Dr Ruth Pfau scaled

Updated August 12, 2017
Dr Ruth Pfau — Photo/File
Dr Ruth Pfau — Photo/File

DERA GHAZI KHAN: Undertaking a hazardous journey to the mountainous area Jhandi in 2000 was nothing short of a miracle for Dr Raheel, then political assistant to the tribal area of Dera Ghazi Khan.

Jhandi, one of the highest peaks of Sulaiman Range, is located in Tuman Buzdar on the periphery of Punjab and Balochistan and is accessible only on horseback.

Off went Dr Raheel and a team of veterinarians (in July) primarily for vaccination of animals. “We also carried a stock of medicines for the people of the area as part of our mission. There was a perception that no doctor from Dera Ghazi Khan had ever visited the area that was steeped in poverty,” he said.

While examining his 70-year-old host Dr Raheel diagnosed that he was suffering from “Korrh” or “Jazam” -- words that seemed all Greek to the patient. “The moment I uttered the word leprosy he cracked a smile and said he had already been taking ‘English medicine’ for a decade on the advice of a woman who had visited the area on horseback and stayed here for more than a week. It was then I realised that the host was talking about none other than Dr Ruth Pfau, the founder of Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center in the area,” narrated Dr Raheel.

The fact that Dr Ruth traversed the area on foot and horseback to serve the ailing gave a glimpse to the visitors of her contribution. The legendary doctor passed away in Karachi on Thursday leaving legions of her patients and admirers to mourn.

DERA GHAZI KHAN: Political agent to tribal area Dr Raheel (centre) on a visit to Jhandi in 2000.
DERA GHAZI KHAN: Political agent to tribal area Dr Raheel (centre) on a visit to Jhandi in 2000.

Speaking to Dawn over phone, health technician Dr Aslam, who was trained by Dr Ruth on how to administer leprosy medicines to the patients, said he was lost for words over the loss of a noble soul. He recalled Dr Ruth had first visited the area in 1980’s -- a time when eight out of 10 members of almost each family suffered from leprosy.

He said the good doctor visited the area many times and she had paid her last visit in 2013. By 1996, she had succeeded a great deal in controlling the disease and it’s because of her contribution there are only 10 patients in the area now.

Among other issues, Dr Aslam said, a lack of resources and poverty aggravated problems of the populace. But the residents of Jhandi would remain indebted to Dr Ruth who brought light to many a life, and keep her memories alive, he said.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2017