Born and raised in England and of Nigerian parentage, Ola Orekunrin made history when at the age of 21 she became a medical doctor thus becoming one of the youngest medical doctors in England. She started her medical degree at the University of York and passed with flying colours.
She was raised by foster white parents and went to a primary school run by Catholic nuns and her family often struggled to make ends meet. According to her, her foster mother, Dorren was a tremendous influence in shaping her life.
Now at age 26, Orekunrin is founder of The Flying Doctors, the first air ambulance service in West Africa. She was prompted to start the new venture after her younger sister died of anaemia. Her sister was always in and out of hospitals and eventually died for lack of the availability of an air ambulance. But starting this venture was not easy.
She gave up a high flying job in England and her dreams of becoming the president of the British Medical Association and minister for the conservative party and moved to Nigeria.
According to her, “I was rejected more times than I can remember.”
“Sometimes I would spend hours waiting in an office only to be told to come back the next day and then be turned down.” she said.
“One time, on my way to Ondo State, I was robbed of all I had and was told by my companion, who was travelling with me, not to speak or else my accent would give me away and be the basis for my kidnap. Even in the face of difficultly, I was able to get some funding in addition to what I had saved up.
“The first time an air ambulance service was suggested for Nigeria was in 1960 and nothing was done about that idea. Having studied the models in Kenya, Libya, Uganda and India, coupled with my growing passion to help improve the health care system in Nigeria, which I believe is poor, I became even more determined to bring a similar service to Nigeria,” she said in a recent interview.
“We are completely physician-led and adhere to the highest standards of medical practice supported by the East Anglian Air Ambulance in the United Kingdom. Our mission is simple— to provide the best possible standard of health care to all.”
When asked if poor Nigerians would be able to benefit from her service, she said: “What I do hope is that more states will take up cover as well as making it increasingly available to the common man. I know that as Nigeria starts to take health care reform more seriously, this will begin to happen.”