In her inspiring memoir, To Light a Candle - Reminiscences and Reflections, published in translation in 1987, German-born physician Dr. Ruth Pfau recounts life in Pakistan, where she helped to establish the national leprosy program, train field workers in leprosy and run the highly-regarded Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center in Karachi. The book is full of wisdom and insight.
There is a story she includes about a young man called Aminuddin. The recollection of his case causes her much anguish. Born into a well-to-do family, he developed leprosy and was kept out of sight by his brothers, who feared for the family's reputation if word got out. Only when his condition became severe was he driven to the leprosy center, but by then it was too late to save him.
Dr. Pfau writes: "Aminuddin died as a result of stigma. Nothing should have prevented him from being cured, getting married and taking his rightful place in society.
"Who denied him his share of life and happiness? Where did we fail - all of us who make up public opinion and social beliefs?"
Her question still resonates today. Despite the decrease in the number cases in the world, fear of leprosy remains deeply ingrained, and is expressed in words and deeds that stigmatize those with the disease. The work of changing public opinion and social beliefs has a long way to go, and we all have a role to play.