OLA OREKUNRIN: DOCTOR FLYING HIGH

Ola Orekurin and colleagues

Have you ever thought how it would be to be a revolutionary? To have the masses recognize your hard work and ingenuity at a time when it feels no one else is up to the task?

Well this is how Ola Orekunrin must be feeling. She was recently added to the Forbes Africa 30 under 30 list for founding West Africa’s first indigenous emergency service, Flying Doctors Nigeria. She is now considered one of Africa’s most successful pioneering entrepreneurs.

Orekunrin was born in London and grew up in a foster home with her sister. After graduating from University of York as a qualified doctor at just 21-years-old, Ola was awarded the MEXT Japanese Government Scholarship after a meteoric rise in the field of medical studies and got the chance to study at Jikei University Hospital.

While in school, she reports immediately becoming interested in emergency trauma medicine which fuelled her passion to start the Flying Doctors Nigeria initiative. However, this was not her only reason. While in medical school, tragedy visited Orekunrin in the form of her sister’s untimely death.

The 12-year-old girl, who had sickle cell anaemia, fell extremely ill while visiting family in Nigeria.  The closest hospital was unable to properly treat her, so Ola and her family tried to find an air ambulance service that could transport her sister quickly and safely to an equipped healthcare facility. Despite searching all across West Africa, they were unable to find an air ambulance service closer than South Africa. The South African air ambulance service was five hours away and had a 12-hour activation time. They needed just under two days to get to Nigeria, and by the time all of the logistics were worked out and they were ready to activate, Ola’s sister died.

After this heart-breaking event, Ola began studying evacuation models and air ambulance services in other developing countries. After working for ten years with Britain’s National Health Service, Ola quit her job and relocated to Lagos, and decided to deal with the issues facing the African health care system head on. Ola believes Africans can do for themselves without needing handouts from outside governments or agencies.

With her medical and aviation training, Ola founded the first air-operated emergency medical service in Lagos, Nigeria in 2009 and named it “Flying Doctors Nigeria.” She was turned down multiple times for funding but was eventually able to secure some to use as capital along with her savings.

In its first three years, the air ambulance service airlifted some 500 patients, providing injured and critically ill people in remote areas transport to hospitals using a fleet of more than 20 planes and helicopters and about 40 staff. Ola’s goal of finding an effective way of facilitating people who are critically ill, getting them to the right doctor and facility within the right time frame for their particular illness has been reaches.

For Ola, her life’s tragedy was turned into something positive and she now encourages other young people as a fellow with TED and has given numerous talks on entrepreneurship. So the question is, if she could do it, why not you?

Photo credits: financialjuneteenth.com

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