2022 WE Empower Awardee, Sub-Saharan Africa
Healthcare has become a critical focus in recent years, especially in Nigeria. Access to simple checkups and medicine is infeasible for millions of Nigerians due to low availability, high costs, and long travel. Yetunde Ayo Oyalowo is a doctor with a dream of universal healthcare throughout Africa, and that dream comes closer to reality every day through her social enterprise Market Doctors.
Meeting people where they are
There is a huge need for medical professionals in Nigeria. Oyalowo recounts how many have left or gone on strike for better pay and working conditions. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this problem is not unique to her country. Low-income communities are especially at risk for health conditions but are also more limited by both money and time. Market Doctors operates at the intersection of all these issues. Two clinics near busy market areas provide local, affordable healthcare to as many people as possible, and a mobile clinic services many communities where there are no other options.
Oyalowo’s business focuses on workers in the informal sector, which is severely underserved. She recognizes that these people would have to sacrifice income for necessities in order to leave work and pay for healthcare. “We are solving the problem of accessing healthcare without disturbing the economic activity of the patient,” Oyalowo says. “We are reducing the ‘unseen cost’ of healthcare access by way of journey time to and waiting time at the hospital.” The idea is simple, but successful implementation is no small feat.
Leading the charge in the face of retreat
Labor is the critical hurdle for Market Doctors. Demand for medical staff and unemployment are very high in Nigeria. However, Oyalowo saw an opportunity to help with both of these social issues and support SDG 3 Health and Well-Being and SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth. “We have trained 100 health agents, employed 54 doctors, 127 nurses and 213 administrative staff,” she shares. “We have contracted out logistics business to micro organizations and engaged 6 print entrepreneurs across our projects thus providing decent work and economic growth to women and youth.” Training on such a scale can be an intimidating business investment, but it is the key to Market Doctors’ success. The results according to Oyalowo speak for themselves: “In a country with a patient-doctor ratio of 1:5,000 and poor access to healthcare, we have conducted over 5,000 first time medical consultations, reached 240,000 people, given medications to 190,322 and visited 7,432 communities.” All of this, amazingly, has been possible in the midst of an ongoing global health crisis.
Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork
Of course, there is no one purveyor of universal healthcare. SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals is understandably core to Market Doctors. Oyalowo recognizes the diversity within Nigeria alone and the need for unique solutions and collaboration to democratize healthcare. “African countries are diverse and have issues peculiar to them, so one cap does not fit all. [In Nigeria] there are over 150 languages and cultural differences are enormous.” In addition to supporting local small businesses through partnerships, Market Doctors also works with global actors like Total Energies and ExxonMobil, as well as pharmaceuticals and NGOs. These partnerships allow Market Doctors to tackle widespread illnesses like hypertension, malaria, and vitamin deficiencies. Even the Nigerian government has been a partner, collaboratively bolstering health education and increasing handwashing early on in the spread of coronavirus. Oyalowo is establishing teamwork across gender, wealth and age within her enterprise, and her goal of democratizing healthcare calls on nations to follow her lead in partnering for the goals.
The WE Empower UN SDG Challenge is a first of its kind global competition for women entrepreneurs who are pushing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and leading innovation in sustainability and climate change through their businesses. This Contributing Series highlights finalists of the Challenge whose work demonstrates how business models and social entrepreneurship can drive global impact.