Dr. Ola Brown

Dr. Ola Brown is the Founder, Flying Doctors Nigeria with over 50 medical doctors in its employ and several air ambulances. She will make a guest appearance at Friday’s THISDAY Healthcare Policy Dialogue, where she will be talking on why emergency medicine is crucial in addressing healthcare issues in Nigeria. In this interview with Martins Ifijeh she emphasised the importance of emergency healthcare in Nigeria

How is Flying Doctors Nigeria addressing healthcare challenges in Nigeria?
Flying Doctors ferries patients from areas of low care to more suitable levels of care. One of the crucial factors in emergency medicine is time. If a patient needing emergency medical care is not transported on time, it may be deadly. So a lot of evidence shows that the time a patient can see a specialised doctor is one of the most pertinent issues and most important factor in a patient living or dying. We have been in operation since the past 10 years, covering 11 countries across Africa. We presently have over 50 medical doctors as staff across Africa.

Do you have your own air ambulances for the healthcare services you provide?
Yes we have our own plane and helicopters. You know helicopters are the most flexible type of vehicle for medical transport because they can land almost anywhere, and they are also quick. They cover a long distance in a short amount of time. This is exactly what a patient needing emergency medical care needs.

In Nigeria, we don’t have as many airports as we would have loved to, so this makes helicopter more versatile. For instance, transporting patients from certain places could take days or long hours, but with helicopters, it could just be few minutes.
We are providing an essential service. There are millions of people dying because they cannot get the right specialist, so I believe this is something needed, especially in Nigeria.

How can poor people access this kind of healthcare?
The poor people cannot access anything on their own in Nigeria, not even food. That is why we need government policies in place to ensure essential services are provided for them. For special cases we do charity evacuation. For instance, recently we evacuated a man in a rural village who had sickle cell crisis. We needed to go from a distance between Sokoto and Lagos, and of course he was on oxygen. So it was logistically impossible to transport that kind of person by road. We evacuated him with our helicopter for free. But we cannot do every evacuation for free. That is why, in terms of access to healthcare, there needs to be policies by government to make it more affordable and accessible.

Is the government doing anything to address Emergency Medicine in the country?
I recently saw that the National Assembly has passed the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF). 50 per cent of that fund will go into Primary Heath Care (PHC), 45 per cent will go into the Ministry of Health, while five per cent will go into Emergency Medicine.

Why are you involved in THISDAY Healthcare Policy Dialogue?
Healthcare is a big passion of mine. Having this summit is a crucial step to reforming our healthcare system. Glad one of the focus of the dialogue is on emergency medicine, because this provides a rescue, as it will help us reduce mortality rates in the country, as well as provide emergency care en route to the hospital.

I am looking forward to the conference and the panel sessions. This is an opportunity to discuss on reforming our healthcare, and adding value to the billion lives in Africa.

Are you partnering hospitals in Nigeria, especially in rural areas?
We partner with a number of hospitals in the country. Rural areas are generally where we move patients from, then to urban or specialised facilities. Just yesterday here, we moved a patient from Liberia into Lagos. So we move people into large cities like Lagos and Accra where there are hospitals adequate enough to take care of their needs.

Also recently, we had a Italian patient who was volunteering in a rural area in Mali, and she started having an asthma attack. Within a few minutes we took off from Nigeria, retrieved her from Mali in a remote airstrip. She was put on life support till we got to Lagos . That prompt response saved her life. So we take people from where they are overwhelmed from level of care to where they can get the desired level of care. That makes aerial ambulance so important.

How do you process travel documents quickly for patients needing visas into Nigeria
For the patient we moved from Liberia, we got the call 1.00am last night and the patient was not from an ECOWAS country, so we called the ambassador for a visa on arrival which was done within 30 minutes. This is one partnership from the government that will make ease of business realizable.

Are you partnering the government?
We are a private business and everybody knows the issues around running a private business in Nigeria. It is a very good thing that the government has put up the ease of doing business model in Nigeria. I am sure in the coming months we will hope to reap the benefits of this.