Ola Orekunrin, the Managing Director of Flying Doctors writes on how she started her charitable service in Ghana.

Logistics is one of the greatest problems in global health. Often when a person becomes ill, the help they require is available somewhere but they are unable to access it in time. Many people die because they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My youngest sister, Busola, was 12 years-old when she died because there was no air ambulance in Nigeria at that time to enable her to get to a specialist facility quickly.

I set up my company, the Flying Doctors Nigeria, a leading pan-African air ambulance company and the first indigenous air ambulance company in Nigeria, to solve this problem.

According to the Association of Air Medical Services, almost 100 million people in the US would not be able to access emergency healthcare without air ambulances. In Africa, where there are fewer healthcare professionals, an under-developed road infrastructure, smaller healthcare budgets and often huge distances between specialist medical facilities; the number of people that cannot access emergency healthcare without an air ambulance is much higher.

Centralizing specialist healthcare

Provision of specialist healthcare (building, equipping and running hospitals) is very expensive. Healthcare budgets in Africa are often lower than 0.1% of their counterparts in the developed world. Therefore, specialist care must be centralized, allowing the bulk of the budget for specialist care to be deployed into very few hospitals. This allows more efficient use of scarce resources; human capital and money.

The high volumes of complex medical cases such as congenital heart disease will allow the doctors to specialize in these procedures and also produce economies of scale with regard to equipment, expertise, research and data.Centralization of specialist healthcare allows us not just to do more with less, but to do better with less.

Emergency response

There are three types of delay that are relevant to almost every medical emergency:

– Delay in recognition of life-threatening symptoms

– Delay in transportation

– Delay in in-hospital treatment

But whilst a great deal of time, policy and investment is directed at the first and last of these, the second, logistics, is largely neglected.

Air ambulances can vastly improve a healthcare system’s response to emergencies. Increasingly air ambulances serve medically and geographically-isolated populations in new ways. This includes primary through to tertiary care without the need to build new clinics, hospitals or critical care centres.

The Flying Doctors Nigeria Air ambulance service has worked across 10 African countries for nearly 10 years, providing essential, life-saving aeromedical transportation services. Our innovative systems and processes allow us to deliver this service at as low as 10% of the cost of similar services around the world.

However, in emergency situations, patients will need to access specialized care swiftly and efficiently. This is where air ambulances provide an essential lifeline.

There can be no truly inclusive growth without inclusive healthcare: healthcare provided through systems that allow every citizen to access medical care in a regional/national specialist hospital with minimal delay.

Inclusive growth means ensuring that there are far fewer cases of children like my sister Busola, who died simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and there was no transportation to enable her access to specialist care.

This article was written by , the Managing Director of The Flying Doctors and originally published on World Economic Forum

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