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Flying Doctors Nigeria: Taking Healthcare to the Skies


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a top doctor’s team flying to your rescue! The medical universe has expanded times and again. Yet, never has it once before worked out of thin air - not until Ola Brown came into the picture. Envisioning medical aid from a higher viewpoint, Ola Brown created one of the most impactful medical platforms on the globe, Flying Doctors Nigeria.

Nigeria is a rapidly growing country, healthcare-wise, with just 3.8% of its GDP spent on healthcare. Therefore, Flying Doctors Nigeria has the luxury to further finesse the industry. The platform offers medical air services of all sorts - ambulances, remote site medical solutions, infrastructural training - you name it. Thus, the platform aims to facilitate medical aid across Nigeria but also all of West and Central Africa - on and off ground!

It all began with a personal family tragedy. Here’s how Dr. Ola Orekunrin Brown conceived the first-of-its-kind regional air ambulance that enables quality healthcare for all!

A Life Dedicated to Medicine

Dr. Ola’s beginnings were humble — as was her hope to better people’s lives and society as a whole.

Her interest in medicine began at a very young age. As a woman of Nigerian descent with the ability to live and receive healthcare in the U.K. as a foster child, she quickly came to understand that the greatest symptom in inadequate healthcare is a lack of proper logistics. In particular, how easily preventable diseases and deaths would be if action was taken sooner.

This is what drove her to receive a Bachelor’s in Medicine at Hull York Medical School at just 21 years old. During her studies, she also obtained a prestigious research scholarship from the Japanese Government to carry out research in the field of regenerative medicine in Tokyo. Following that, she briefly worked as an A + E doctor in England and obtained a helicopter pilot license, having received specialized training in aviation medicine.

After founding Flying Doctors Nigeria, Ola’s interest turned to finance, so that she could better manage her business. Her love for education led her to earn a Master’s Degree at the University of London as well as numerous finance and accounting licenses and certifications from the University of Cambridge, Columbia University, and the New York Institute of Finance.

However, Ola’s love for medicine and stabilizing healthcare in her home country remained a priority.

The Necessity for Proper Urgent Care

Dr. Ola’s resume is admirable, though it was a personal family tragedy that started the idea of Flying Doctors Nigeria. She was still attending university when she learned the news that her sister fell ill while on vacation. While looking for an airlift ambulance to try and save her, Dr. Ola and her family soon realized that the nearest one was located in South Africa.

Since her sister’s condition was urgent, the 12 hour-long wait for the airlift, combined with the bureaucracy of sending out a vehicle, led to her unfortunate death.

For Dr. Ola, this experience is what she says pushed her off the metaphorical cliff. Soon after, she left her job in England to move to Nigeria and kickstart a project that could spare any future families from having to deal with a tragedy similar to hers.

This led her to a year of speaking to various figures in Nigeria — businessmen, doctors, and senior people in aviation — to try and aid her in starting entrepreneurship for the greater good in the country. It was a combination of heavy regulation and disbelief from various people in Nigeria that put a halt to this dream, albeit only for a short while. In the coming months, Dr. Ola’s dedication would overcome all administrative obstacles on her way.

Because of her experience working as a doctor as well as her knowledge of finances, Dr. Ola successfully founded Flying Doctors Nigeria in 2007.

Flying High with Praise

It didn’t take long before Flying Doctors Nigeria took off to garner success in the region. After some administrative tinkering and a lot of patience, Dr. Ola’s dream soon became a reality as she founded the first-ever air ambulance in all of Sub-Saharan Africa in 2007.

Initially, Flying Doctors Nigeria had a simple fleet of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft located in four major Nigerian airports. Since emergency care was her initial passion, she ensured that a myriad of emergency services would be available on board the air ambulance. In addition to people, Flying Doctors Nigeria also serves state governments and private companies.

Over the years, they have been expanding to other regions in Africa and are currently working across 10 African countries in the West African and Central African region.

In 2019, Flying Doctors Nigeria was crowned winner of the Africa Resourced First Aid and Ambulance Service Provider. On a personal level, Dr. Ola has received numerous awards for her contributions to founding Flying Doctors Nigeria as well as her medical expertise. She was awarded the Future Awards Africa Prize for Entrepreneurship in 2012, became part of the Forbes’ 20 Young Power Women in Africa list in 2013, and received the Silverbird Group Extraordinary Business Achievement Award in 2018.

Investing in Health

Since there was very little faith in Dr. Ola’s idea from the outset, she ended up as the first and only person who established Flying Doctors Nigeria. Her naturally frugal personality was key in her establishing the company. Her continuous saving of 50–60% of her salary each month for years is what gave her ample resources to found the company in Lagos.

The original start-up capital for Flying Doctors Nigeria was her own money. After it was established, investors (primarily serving as clientele first) funded the business while using their service.

While there are no exact figures made available, major investors include oil and gas companies like Shell, Gac, Hercules Offshore, Saipem, Seven Energy, TMS Offshore, the Sahara Group, and various others.

Dr. Ola has remained an investor throughout her entire life. In 2018, she founded Greentree Investment Company, a venture capital firm that provides investments to various African tech start-up businesses. In addition to this, in 2019 she founded the Flying Doctors Healthcare Investment Company, an investment firm that she uses to share medical knowledge, logistics, and tech for various African healthcare providers.

Reach for the Skies

As of 2020, Flying Doctors Nigeria has 20 aircraft and 47 staff on board across all of Nigeria. They have been providing emergency medical services to various African countries for over a decade. For Dr. Ola, the biggest motivator in her drive to keep expanding is the percentage of people they have been able to save throughout the years.

For now, their main target is high-risk industries like the construction, oil, and gas industries, which are prone to having the most accidents on an annual basis. However, Dr. Ola hopes that this will expand to other areas across Africa. It ought to also improve access to treatment in pre-hospital and in-hospital injury management.

Nigeria also faces a ‘trauma epidemic’ of various physical injuries. Therefore, Dr. Ola’s wish is that the business will expand further to help people with traumatic wounds as well, rather than focus on illnesses or infectious diseases alone.

Flying Doctors Nigeria is what has helped Dr. Ola combine her love for medicine, Africa, and her passion for flying into a thriving business. It’s a balance of passion, drive, and quick-thinking that has led her to become one of the most successful Africans of today - with a sturdy vision aimed at saving lives!