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National Scientist Fe del Mundo: Grand Dame of Philippine Pediatrics and Medicine, 99

The country’s distinguished Pediatrician and National Scientist, Dr. Fe del Mundo passed away on 6 August 2011 (Saturday) at the age of 99.

The National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST, Phl), the nation’s highest recognition and advisory body on issues concerning science and technology, joins the scientific community in mourning the demise of National Scientist del Mundo, who conducted important pioneering researches on infectious diseases and dedicated much of her life to the cause of pediatrics in the country.


Her most significant researches dealt mainly with viral diseases, particularly those on polio-myelitis, rubeola, rubella, and varicella. These clinical researches served as reference in the use of vaccine and immunizations in the country. The absence of well equipped laboratories for analysis did not restrain her from determining the nature of the sickness. Dr. del Mundo would send specimens or blood samples for polio to New York, measles to London, rubella to Switzerland, and chicken pox to Japan. In 1954, she helped characterize dengue fever at the clinical and laboratory levels, which contributed to a better understanding of the disease.


Dr. del Mundo also invented two devices to help people in the rural communities. In 1973, she invented a simple inexpensive incubator made of bamboo that can be easily made for rural communities. She also developed an improvised bamboo radiant warmer and a photo therapy device that could cure babies with jaundice. These inventions reflected her interest in rural health, particularly those in underserved or unreached rural areas.


She also formulated strategies to incorporate the ways of hilot or traditional midwife to the family planning and birth attending framework of health services in rural communities. Dr. del Mundo pioneered the building up of indigenous health workers and organized rural extension teams to advise mothers on breastfeeding and child care. She promoted the idea of linking hospitals to the community through the public immersion of physicians and other medical personnel to facilitate greater coordination among health workers and the public for common health programs such as immunization and nutrition. She called for the greater integration of midwives into the medical community, noting their more visible presence within rural communities.


In 1957, Dr. del Mundo, established the Children’s Memorial Hospital (later renamed Dr. Fe del Mundo Medical Center). To do this, Dr. del Mundo  sold her  own home and personal effects. The hospital was expanded in 1966 with the establishment of an Institute of Maternal and Child Health, the first of its kind in Asia. The said hospital continues to admit thousands of children requiring quality medical help.


A woman of many firsts, Dr. del Mundo was the first female and first Asian to be enrolled in Pediatrics at the prestigious all-male Harvard Medical School (1935-1940) as a Philippine Commonwealth scholar. She was also the first woman to head a government general hospital in the Philippines when she was appointed as director of the Manila Children’s hospital (later renamed Dr. Jose R. Reyes Memorial Hospital) in 1943. She was also the first Filipino diplomate of the American Board of Pediatrics (1947), which introduced the Filipino women and physicians to the world. She was also the first Asian president of the Medical Women’s International Association, holding this post from 1962 to 1966. In 1967, she became an Emeritus Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In the Philippines, she was a pioneering force in child health care. She was the founder and first woman president of the Philippine Pediatric Society, wherein she served from 1952 to 1955. She likewise founded the Philippine Medical Women’s Association and became its first president. In 1972, she became the first woman president of the Philippine Medical Association, a first in the association’s decade-long history. More than a decade after, she became the first Philippine delegate to the World Academy of Science in Trieste, Italy (1993).


Dr. del Mundo joined the faculty of the University of Santo Tomas as an associate professor of pediatrics from 1943 to 1954. She then transferred to Far Eastern University (FEU) as professor of pediatrics and chairman of pediatrics department from 1954 to 1974. She eventually became Professor Emeritus of FEU in 1974. The Philippine Women’s University, the Medical Women’s College of Pensylvania, Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the University of the Philippines (1996) conferred on her Honoris Causa degrees. Part of her commitment to quality medical education was her acceptance of students from different schools to be trained at her hospital, an idea she adapted from the Harvard Medical School.


She was admitted to the National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST Phl) in 1979, in recognition of her important contributions to science and the community as a pediatrician, teacher, researcher, humanitarian, and grand dame of Philippine Pediatrics and medicine. In 1980, Dr. del Mundo became the first woman National Scientist when she was conferred the Rank and Title of National Scientist, the highest honor that the Philippine Government can bestow on a Filipino scientist for her outstanding contributions to science and technology. 


Her undeniable devotion to child care earned her numerous prestigious national and international awards, including the Elizabeth Blackwell award for outstanding service to mankind in 1966, the distinguished Ramon Magsaysay award for public service by a private citizen in 1977, the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Award in 1980, and recently, the 2010 Order of Lakandula with the rank of Bayani by the Philippine Government.


Dr. del Mundo was a valedictorian of the University of the Philippines, College of Medicine (1933). She placed 3rd in the national medical board exams thereafter and was named Most Outstanding Scholar in Medicine in the Philippines in 1933. In 1936, she was granted a scholarship by then President Manuel Quezon and obtained post-graduate training in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School for five years.  In 1940, she received her M.A. in Bacteriology from Boston University in Massachussets.


Her remains lie in state at the Fe del Mundo Medical Center. Necrological services will be held at the Department of Science and Technology on August 11, 2011. Interment will be at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 August 2011 06:48

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