Growing up in Manila, Fe del Mundo grew up in relatively privileged circumstances, but even so, the childhood mortality rate in the Philippines was pervasive. Three of her siblings died in infancy, and having survived that, Fe watched her 11-year-old sister Elisa die of peritonitis. The trauma spurred her to study medicine, specialising in paediatrics, and after graduating top of her class, her brilliance enabled her to get a scholarship to any university in the world. Ambitiously, she chose Harvard University, whose medical department did not admit women at the time. However, her Philippino name meant that they didn’t recognise her gender until after she was enrolled, and after a switch in dormitories, she was able to continue and flourished.
Called back home during a time of war, she focused on helping the children left behind. Her organisation during that time showed off her incredible compassion and organisation, and she became the first woman to head a government general hospital. Founding and living above The Institute for Maternal and Child Health in 1957, she was able to promote new scientific advice on breastfeeding and immunisation, and even invented a bamboo incubator for patients in rural areas without access to electricity.