Fe Del Mundo was a woman of many firsts. Founder of the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines, she also invented a improvised incubator, a cloth-suspended scale and a radiant warmer made from bamboo.
One of Fe Del Mundo’s other claims to fame came to her in a strange way. She was the first woman to be admitted to Harvard University Medical School in 1936, but there was a reason why. The admission group at Harvard believed “Fe” was actually man, and they only realised their mistake when she arrived at the campus. Due to her impressive credentials, she was allowed to stay on and became the first and only female student of her time.
Mundo went on to receive her post-graduate scholarship from Harvard and became one of the most respected persons in the Philippines. A career spanning eight decades, devoting her life to medical practice, she eventually won international recognition – including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 1977.
Only three years later she was conferred to the rank and title of “National Scientist of the Philippines.” in 2010, just one year before her death, Mundo also received the prestigious “Order of Lakandula.”
Born in Intramuros, Manila on November 27, 1911 – her family lived across the street from the Manila Cathedral. She enrolled in the University of the Philippines in 1926 and earned her medical degree in 1933 – graduating as class valedictorian.
Mundo’s exposure to children in the regions of Marinduque led her to choose pediatrics as her specialty.
After her life at Harvard she returned to the Philippines in 1941 just before the Japanese invasion. She joined the International Red Cross and volunteered to care for children at the University of Santo Tomas internment camp for foreign nationals. Here she set up a makeshift hospice, leading her to become known at “The Angel of Santo Tomas.”
It wasn’t until 1954 when she established her own pediatric clinic to pursue private practice. Frustrated by the bureaucratic constraints in working for a government hospital, del Mundo wanted to establish her own pediatric hospital. She sold her home, almost all her personal belongings and obtained a sizeable loan from GSIS in order to finance the construction.
The Children’s Medical Center – a 100-bed hospital in Quezon City was inaugurated in 1957 and was the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. In 1966 the hospital was expanded and established the Maternal and Child Health – the first institution of its kind in Asia.
De Mundo lived her life at the hospital – since selling her home to build the complex in the first place, she lived on the second floor until 2007. Today the hospital has been named “Dr Fe Del Mundo Children’s Medical Center Foundation.”
Mundo made her rounds daily, even at the age of 99, moving from room to room in her wheelchair – living the life she loved so much.
Mundo also pioneered work on infectious diseases in the Philippines. Lack of well-equipped laboratories did not deter her from sending samples abroad. In the 1950s she studied dengue fever, at the time little was known about the disease. She authored more than 100 articles and reviews related to dengue, polio and measels and also authored the Textbook of Paediatrics, a fundamental medical text used in Philippine Medical Schools.
President Marcos named del Mundo as a “National Scientist of the Philippines” in 1980 – once again she was the first woman to be so named. Other Awards included:
The Elizabeth Blackwell Award – For Outstanding Service to Mankind (1966)
Outstanding Pediatrician and Humanitarian Award – by the International Pediatric Association (1977)
Raymond Magsaysay Award – For Public Service (1977)
Order of Lakandula – With the Ran of Bayani at the Malacanan Palace by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2010)
Fe del Mundo died on August 6, 2011 – leaving behind a huge legacy for the nation’s healthcare system.