Ola Orekunrin was studying to become a doctor in the UK a few years ago when her younger sister fell seriously ill while traveling in Nigeria. The 12-year-old girl, who’d gone to the West African country on holiday with relatives, needed urgent care but the nearest hospital couldn’t deal with her condition.
Orekunrin and her family immediately began looking for an air ambulance service to rapidly transport the girl, a sickle cell anemia sufferer, to a more suitable healthcare facility. They searched all across West Africa but were stunned to find out there was none in the whole region.
“The nearest one at the time was in South Africa,” remembers Orekunrin. “They had a 12-hour activation time so by the time they were ready to activate, my sister was dead.
“It was really a devastating time for me and I started thinking about whether I should be in England talking about healthcare in Africa, or I should be in Africa dealing with healthcare and trying to do something about it.”
Orekunrin did the latter. Motivated by the tragic death of her sister, the young doctor decided to leave behind a high-flying job in the UK to take to the Nigerian skies and address the vital issue of urgent healthcare in Africa’s most populous country.
A pioneering entrepreneur with an eye for opportunity, Orekunrin set up Flying Doctors Nigeria, the first air ambulance service in West Africa, transporting victims of medical emergencies, including industrial workers from the country’s booming oil and gas sector.
Currently in its third year, the Lagos-based company has so far airlifted about 500 patients, using a fleet of planes and helicopters to rapidly move injured workers and critically ill people from remote areas to hospitals.
“From patients with road traffic trauma, to bomb blast injuries to gunshot wounds, we save lives by moving these patients and providing a high level of care en route,” says Orekunrin.
“I wanted to find a way that I can facilitate people who were critically ill,” she says. “Get them to see a doctor, and not just any doctor — I wanted to facilitate getting the right patient to the right facility, within the right time frame for that particular illness, and that’s why I came to start the air ambulance.”
Last month, the World Economic Forum recognized Orekunrin’s achievements by naming her amongst its prestigious Young Global Leaders class of 2013, a group it describes as the best of today’s leaders under the age of 40.
“It came as a surprise to me actually,” she says of the honor. “I’m really flattered and really happy.”
- Flying doctor takes to the skies after sister’s death (updatednews.ca)
- Sister’s Love: Flying doctor takes to the skies after sister’s death (msmediacreationsite.wordpress.com)
- The flying doctor saving lives in Nigeria (wyff4.com)
- Air Ambulance Emergency (donaldcusack.wordpress.com)