Enterprise Story of Dr. Ola Orekunrin by lioness of Africa

Dr. Ola Orekunrin is a medical doctor, helicopter pilot and the healthcare entrepreneur founder of Flying Doctors Nigeria, West Africa’s first Air Ambulance Service. She’s dedicated to bringing trauma care to the most remote parts of Western Africa and her company, an air ambulance service based in Lagos, is doing just that. She was motivated to start the company after her younger sister tragically died whilst traveling in Nigeria as a consequence of there being no medical air service available to transport her to hospital. Ola graduated as a medical doctor from the University of York in the UK and is a member of the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine.


Ola currently resides in Lagos, Nigeria where she is considered a national expert of disaster medicine and pre-hospital care. Her company has been featured on various local TV and radio stations as well as the BBC and CNN


Ola Orekunrin’s startup story is truly remarkable. She was originally born in London and grew up in a foster home with her sister in the small seaside town of Lowestoft in the south-east of England. Her meteoric rise in the field of medical studies took her to Japan as a result of her being awarded the MEXT Japanese Government Scholarship. There, she conducted clinic research in the field of regenerative medicine at the Jikei University Hospital.


However, the catalyst for a major life and career decision came when her sister became very, very ill on holiday whilst staying with relatives in Nigeria. The local hospital was unable to manage her sickle cell anaemia condition, and as a result, Ola and her family started to search for an air ambulance so that she could be safely transported to a suitable medical facility in the country. The tragedy for the family was that there were no air ambulances to be found, even though the search took them from Nigeria, to Ghana, Sierra Leone and Cameroon, and across West Africa. The only one to be found was in South Africa, 5 hours away, but by the time the logistics had been arranged, Ola’s sister had died of her condition.

The real tragedy is that she didn’t die because her condition was unmanageable; she died of a condition that could have been managed with the right medicines in the cupboard of a highly efficient Accident and Emergency hospital ward –  it was just a problem of access. The death of her sister and the circumstances that caused it, broke Ola’s heart, so she left her job and took the decision to move to Nigeria where she could try to make a difference to the lives of other patients and improving healthcare in the country as a whole.


However, Ola’s persistence, hard work, and gritty determination paid off, and today her company is well-established, well respected, and has won the applause and admiration from around the business world and from across the medical profession. The business now has a mixed-pool of more than 20 aircraft that are used for different types of evacuation, and about 30 staff all employed in different capacities and branches in three major cities in Nigeria. Importantly, since the launch of the business, hundreds of lives have been saved – not just in Nigeria, but across the African continent.  The Lagos-based company has so far airlifted around 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, Ola and her company are helping to save lives by moving these patients safely, rapidly, and providing a high level of care en route.”


Over the past few years, the honours and accolades for Ola’s work have begun to flow, with the prestigious World Economic Forum recognizing her considerable 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.


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