Among the ironies of modernization in Southeast Asia is the grim fact that at least one-third of all children are more critically malnourished than were their grandparents' generation.
Urbanization denies families opportunities to gather important foods for their diet. Fish, crab and other seafood, or vegetables and fruits growing semi-wild, are less available to migrants from a rural barrio to the city slums. Shifting from hand-pounded to machine-milled rice costs nutrients as does curtailment of breastfeeding in favor of diluted canned milk.
Malnutrition reduces resistance to disease and in itself is a major cause of illness and death. Respiratory infections, including tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal diseases continue to take a heavy toll among children in the Philippines. Schistosomiasis and malaria, in the remoter provinces where they occur, may, by their incidence and results, be cruel to the young.
FE DEL MUNDO chose to specialize in treating children while attending the College of Medicine at the University of the Philippines where she graduated first in her class of 70 in 1933. Postgraduate studies in pediatrics at Harvard and Columbia Universities led to a residency at Billings Hospital in Chicago and a research fellowship at the Harvard Medical School. Leaving attractive opportunities to remain in America, she returned home on the eve of World War II.
In enemy occupied Manila the petite lady doctor organized a Children's Home, aided Allied internees in Santo Tomas University premises and directed the Manila Children's Hospital. After liberation in 1945 she founded and was first Director of the North General Hospital, and she also joined the faculty of Santo Tomas University. For two decades she chaired the Pediatrics Department of Far Eastern University and last year edited a major compendium, Textbook of Pediatrics and Child Health.
The Children's Medical Center was started in 1957 as a 100-bed hospital on what had been a muddy plot in Quezon City, chiefly through the ingenuity, hard work and prayers of Dr. DEL MUNDO. Donating her own house and property toward the funding, she also established there the Institute of Maternal and Child Health to train doctors, nurses and paramedical personnel. By 1962 teams starting rural rehydration centers were saving lives of infants dying of diarrhea. As international support was mustered these became full-fledged pediatric teams.
Even before the Philippine Government began encouraging population control in the late 1960s Dr. DEL MUNDO had rural units in distant Palawan and her father's home island of Marinduque teaching health, nutrition and family planning. In 1968, with funds provided through the National Economic Council and the United States Agency for International Development, the Institute established 100 family planning clinics in puericulture centers—within five years these increased to 390. Distinguishing the Institute staff were the enthusiasm with which they enlisted acceptors, their critical assessment of their own shortcomings and careful accounting of their modest resources.
National and international recognition and honors have not caused Dr. DEL MUNDO to slacken her effort nor lose sight of her purpose. The health of children—upon whom the future depends—continues to absorb the now 66 year old "little lady in tennis shoes" as it has for four decades, only today she has enlisted some of the ablest professional talents in the cause.
In electing FE DEL MUNDO to receive the 1977 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes her lifelong dedication as a physician extraordinary to needy Filipino children.
Written by Russell Molina
Illustrated by Jomike Tejido
Winner. 10th Cardinal Sin Catholic Book Awards, 2016 – Youth and Children Category
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