Remembering Dr. Fe Del Mundo, the ‘Grand Dame of Pediatrics’ in the Philippines

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By Anna Valmero

TAGUIG CITY, METRO MANILA—Dr. Fe Del Mundo is often acknowledged by the local
scientific community as a modern-day hero and will forever be remembered for her significant contributions in making sure all Filipino children are provided with proper
healthcare.
Del Mundo, a National Scientist, passed away last August 6 at the age of 99.
Among her numerous awards include the Ramon Magsaysay Public Service award in
1977, the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Award in 1980 and the Order of Lakandula with rank
of “Bayani” in 2010.
She is often acknowledged – at least by people within the scientific community – as a modern-
day hero; a prolific writer of over 150 published scientific articles, an educator to countless
students and a humanitarian who served the marginalized sector.
President Benigno Aquino III himself paid tribute to Del Mundo and described her as an
inspiration for Filipino excellence.
“Siya ay isang inspirasyon at matatag na halimbawa sa lahat ng Pilipinong nangangarap at
nagnanais na makilala ang ating lahi sa bawat sulok ng mundo. Ipinapakita lamang ito ang
ating kakayahan na makipagsabayan sa mga banyaga sa arangan ng siyensiya at teknolohiya,”
said Aquino.
During the necrological service for Del Mundo, Aquino conferred the “Grand Collar (Maringal
na Kwintas) of the Order of the Golden Heart,” a presidential award for her contribution to
helping the country’s marginalized sectors.
Quoting a tribute to the late scientist, the President added: “Del Mundo is the grand dame of
Philippine pediatrics and medicine—an inspiring paradigm, a shining and living example and
universal role model for all pediatricians everywhere.”
Del Mundo is the first woman (and the first Filipino) to attend the all-male Harvard Medical
School as a Philippine scholar in 1935.
Before entering Harvard, Del Mundo was valedictorian of the University of the Philippines
College of Medicine in 1933. She placed third in the national medical board exams and named
most outstanding scholar in medicine.
Returning to the Philippines after her Harvard studies, she piloted research on immunization
for polio, rubella, vericella, tuberculosis and dengue. She also pioneered the creation of the
Botika sa Barangay and child health care centers to serve Filipinos in remote villages.
“Not only was Dr. Fe Del Mundo an eminent educator and public servant, she was also an
inventor of two simple yet important devices: the inexpensive bamboo incubator and bamboo
radiant warmer and a photo therapy device to cure babies with jaundice for small rural
communities who cannot afford medical help,” said Department of Science and Technology
(DoST) Secretary Mario Montejo.
Montejo urged scientists and inventors to follow the example of Del Mundo in providing
equipment that can be replicated at low costs and by the rural community members
themselves.
“Key to this is her (Del Mundo) sense of urgency to work on things immediately and get things
done to save children’s lives,” he said.
Del Mundo also incorporated the ways of hilot or traditional midwife in family planning and
birth attending in rural communities. She helped organized rural health teams to advise
mothers on breastfeeding and child care.
Del Mundo did not have a child of her own but she cared and saved thousands of Filipino
children by establishing Children’s Memorial Hospital (now Fe Del Mundo Medical Center) in
1957.
“Linking hospitals with the community as part of the medical training provides medical
trainees opportunities to understand the health needs and problems of the communities. Such
exposure gives enables them to use simple methods and minimum logistics to coordinate with
health workers,” the late National Scientist was once quoted as saying.
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