José Américo Silva Fontes

Ashoka Fellow
Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Fellow Since 1992


This profile was prepared when José Américo Silva Fontes was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
The New Idea
Jose is a neonatal specialist by profession and an inventor out of necessity. He turns ordinary, inexpensive household and hospital items into lifesaving medical equipment that he hopes will benefit not only Brazil but the entire world. Using Tupperware containers and glass water bottles, he has made oxygen hoods for babies in his care. From track lighting, cotton netting, and dimmer switches, he has made phototherapy units for jaundiced babies. Hospitals, clinics, and even families are thus able to have the benefits normally thought possible only from equipment (usually imported) that costs many times more.
For infants with clogged nasal passages that are unable to breathe from their noses, Jose designed a special pacifier with an eyedropper inside that allows the baby to draw in air while sucking on the pacifier. He has even made a type of caressing machine with feathers and a recording of the mother's voice to cuddle and rock the child when the mother or nurse is not available. Even the affection of a mechanical surrogate mother can help quicken the recovery of a newborn.
Jose has three principal words to describe his innovations: humanizing, simplifying, and preventative. At the hospital, he works with nurses and mothers to train them to apply these principles to the care of the children. Of his inventions, which number more than 100, he once told a journalist, "All of sudden, the ideas just pop out."
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

More For You