There are so many articles about Fe del Mundo, the Philippines’ first national scientist. You could read her biography here. Most of these articles if you google her will tell you that she invented a bamboo incubator and a sort of jaundice relieving machine. (And similar things that you memorize to pass a high school quiz.)I will not downplay these inventions. I also don’t know if these machines are real. There is no mention of an incubator or a jaundice machine in her Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation page.
But is it really necessary for a scientist to “make things” to be called a scientist? Just a thought and the short answer is NO.
As for me, it is more interesting to look at del Mundo’s publications.
Click here for a full list of del Mundo’s papers.
She started publishing her work in 1947 while her last was in 1979. If I search del Mundo’s record in ISI’s web of knowledge, her total publication is 28. Although her h-index is a mere 3 (low relative to most scientists now), it could be forgiven. It was after all a different time.
Her most cited work is about lactation and child spacing. It is an interesting paper with results that are still relevant today. She and her co-author looked at the relationship of breastfeeding to the interval of pregnancy.
Here is the abstract:
The relationship of breastfeeding to the interval of pregnancy was studied in 2102 rural Filipino women. Breastfeeding for 7-12 months resulted in a pregnancy interval of 24-35 months in 51.2% of the women. However, this interval was observed in only 30% of the women when the child was artificially fed. The actual difference between the 2 groups was more than twice the standard error. The results show that breastfeeding for 7-12 months, or more, may prolong the interval between pregnancies.
The question of “why” comes to mind upon reading this. I suppose that they did not attempt to expand to the why in their discussion but I’ll never know. I don’t have the complete paper.
There is however a Nature commentary written after 18 years that gives a brief explanation .
In that commentary it is written that Endocrinologists are starting to understand the mechanism of lactation infertility. They said, “Afferent neural inputs to the hypothalamus following nipple stimulation (a mother suckling her child) seem to cause a local release of beta-endorphin, which in turn inhibits hypothalamic secretion of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone and dopamine, thereby suppressing gonadotrophin secretion and ovarian activity.” I’ll update this post once I read current literature on this.
Aristotle (yes, THE Aristotle) actually pointed out that “while women are suckling children menstruation does not occur according to nature, nor do they conceive; if they do conceive, the milk dries up (quote in ref ).” Del Mundo’s work could have been one of the earliest scientific papers quantifying his remark.
By the mid-1980′s almost 15 years after the publication of del Mundo’s research, studies (not only of del Mundo’s) in lactation and child spacing are now being considered when drafting health policies worldwide.
And that my friends, is an indication of a scientist with a sharp foresight.
I don’t know if it had an effect on our own policies. Maybe not. To start with, do we have a health policy?
Fe del Mundo passed away on August 6, 2011. Hence, this post.
Oh by the way, del Mundo actually wanted to go into public service by teaching (in a government run school, I am guessing UP) . “She hoped to pay back her government scholarship and also to pass on to future generations of doctors the knowledge she had acquired in her studies abroad .”
There were no positions open.
 Del Mundo F, & Adiao AC (1970). Lactation and child spacing as observed among 2,102 rural Filipino mothers. The Philippine journal of pediatrics, 19 (3), 128-32 PMID: 12305373
 Thapa, S., Short, R., & Potts, M. (1988). Breast feeding, birth spacing and their effects on child survival Nature, 335 (6192), 679-682 DOI: 10.1038/335679a0
 Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation website. Link is here.