THE Google doodle.
THE Google doodle.

KARACHI: In honour of Dr Ruth Pfau’s 90th birthday, Google celebrated the work of the late German nun, who devoted her life to eradicating leprosy from Pakistan, with a doodle.

The doodle shows Dr Pfau tending to a patient. Google also shared three other concepts shared by artist Alyssa Winans for the doodle. This included one of Dr Pfau’s outside the Marie Adelaide Lep­r­osy Centre.

In a blurb about the late nun, Google said that Dr Pfau was born in Leipzig in 1929 and “was inspired to become a nun at age 29 after meeting a concentration camp survivor. While travelling to India, she was waylaid in Pakistan by visa issues and paid a life-changing visit to the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Clinic in Karachi”.

“I could not believe that humans could live in such conditions,” said Dr Pfau, remembering her first impressions of a Pakistani leper colony.

As a result of German nun’s efforts, WHO declared leprosy under control in Pakistan in 1996

Also known as Hansen’s disease, leprosy is caused by a bacterial infection that can now be prevented and cured, but the disease has historically caused sufferers to be ostracised and stigmatised for disfiguration.

During her initial days in the city, Dr Pfau was struck by the plight of one patient in particular (in an interview with BBC in 2010): “He must have been my age — I was at this time not yet 30 — and he crawled on hands and feet into this dispensary, acting as if this was quite normal.”

“Dr Pfau raised funds to refurbish the clinic, building up a network of over 150 modern medical centres, including physiotherapy units, workshops to manufacture artificial limbs, and homes for the handicapped. She started Pakistan’s first Leprosy Technicians’ course in 1965 and educated the public to combat the stigma associated with the disease,” Google said.

“As a result of her efforts, the World Health Organisation declared leprosy under control in Pakistan by 1996 — earlier than most other Asian countries. Often compared to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Dr Pfau received numerous national and international awards for her lifelong service to humanity,” it added.

Dr Ruth Pfau passed away in 2017 at the age of 87.

The doodle

According to the search engine, a Google doodle is a special and temporary alteration of the Google logo on the homepages intended to commemorate holiday, events, achievements and notable historical figures. The first doodle honoured the 1998 edition of the Burning Man festival in Nevada, USA, and was designed by Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to notify users of their absence in case the serves crashed.

Singers Noor Jehan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mehdi Hassan and Nazia Hassan, philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, cricketers Hanif Mohammad and Abdul Hafeez Kardar, artist Sadequain and writer Fatima Surraiya Bajia have been immortalised with a doodle over the years. Google also makes a special doodle every year to mark Pakistan’s Independence Day on Aug 14.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2019