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My mum’s death motivated me to establish Market Doctor -Dr Yetunde Ayo Oyalowo, founder/CEO Market Doctor

Chibuzo Ihegboro

Dr Yetunde Ayo Oyalowo is the Founder/CEO of Market Doctor. Dr Oyalowo is a Public Health physician with more than 18 years of experience in this field of Medicine. She studied Medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Ilorin, and has a Master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Lagos. Besides, she has a Postgraduate Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety (NEBOSH) from the United Kingdom, and a Certificate in Managing  Occupational Health Services, from Brunel University, London. She is equally a certified customer service professional from the Service Quality Institute, and a certified Human Resource Manager with the Carrington Heritage Centre For Professional Management, United Kingdom. She further acquired a certificate in Marketing and Business Strategy from Lagos Business School and a certificate in Career Advancement and Leadership Skills for Women in Healthcare Leadership.
A multiple award winner, Oyalowo got the First Prize for the Fidelity SME Connect Award in 2019. She was also one of the top 50 of the African Business Heroes in 2020. Not only that, in 2021, she won Cartier Women Initiative Fellow (Sub-Saharan Africa) and was equally a winner of Her Network Healthcare Women of the Year 2021. Oyalowo became an alumna of the US Exchange in 2022, the UN Empower SDG Challenge, 2022, and the UN Empower SDG Challenge 2022, in which she is one of the top five finalists.
In this interview, she spoke about Market Doctor, her career as a medical doctor, health and life.

Tell us what Market Doctor is all about.

Market Doctor is a social impact enterprise that provides affordable and accessible basic healthcare to Nigerians, especially those in the informal sector, rural areas, and slums, who either do not have access to quality healthcare or cannot afford it. The purpose is to serve people in need of care with professionalism, igniting hope, and taking healthcare to the doorsteps of Nigerians without disturbing their day-to-day activities. We believe in a world where people can have access to basic health services irrespective of their location, religion, ethnic group and social class.
We started about five years ago, and over the years, we have had over 100 partnerships, which include organisations, associations, companies, religious bodies, schools and even individuals.

Why did you decide to go into this?

I decided to go into it because of the story my father told me. My name is Yetunde. Yetunde is born when after your grandma died, the first female child that is born is named Yetunde. My father is a university don. He told me that my mum died just because she had diarrhoea, and before he could get to her in the village, things had gone bad. There was nobody to attend to her and by the time they took her to the hospital, she had died. But my father wanted me to become a medical doctor, so I became a doctor. When I became a doctor, I kept on ruminating on that story, and I saw that there are still a lot of people who are in that situation. If you don’t have money, you can’t go to the government hospital, as cheap as it is. So a lot of people are turned back in the hospital, just because they can’t deposit money. So I now thought of what we can do for such people. That’s when I decided to go to the market where people come and go to. They can add healthcare to their shopping bag.

This project has directly impacted more than 100,000 in just a few years across 14 states of the federation including Rivers, Ondo, Kwara, Ekiti, Oyo, Anambra, Abia, Kano, and Akwa Ibom. Others are Gombe, Enugu, Abuja, Ogun and Lagos states. Our work exemplifies that anyone from any background can have access to healthcare with minimal economic loss and can purchase primary healthcare within their limits of affordability if the model of delivery is suitable. Also, in a country where the unemployment rate is around 33% according to studies, and the ratio of doctors to patients is 1:5000, Market Doctor had to get innovative by training health agents to act as a connection between patients and medical workers in remote communities. Over 100 health agents have been trained, alongside providing a source of income to 54 doctors, 127 nurses, and 213 administrative staff since its inception. Over the past five years, Market Doctor has had more than 350 volunteers, of which 80% are women.

What have you learned from working among different cultural groups and ethnicities?

What I have learnt is that we are very diverse in Nigeria culturally, and religiously. We are differently oriented and how you work with one part, tribe or culture is different from how you work with other cultures. For instance, in some areas, there are serious gender stereotypes such that when you go to such areas, women are not even allowed to come out for medical outreaches. In some other areas, if the women have to go, their husbands have to escort them. meaning that if their husbands are not at home, they won’t come and have access to healthcare. Some also have religious inclinations. Some religions don’t believe that medications are vital to well-being. Some still believe in traditional healing and traditional way of doing things. So you have to find out what is obtainable in the culture, adapt to it and treat people accordingly.

What do you intend to achieve with Market Doctor?

Our goal is to reduce the time it will take to access healthcare by bringing it to its natural habitat, which can be a community, home, workplace and underserved communities. It is also intended to have a Nigeria where a health worker is within the reach of everyone, using the market as a focus location designed with the informal sector hard-to-reach communities in mind. Also, it is about making sure that Nigerians do not lose their daily income because they want to access healthcare and do not spend their scarce funds on journeys to health centres, and waste time, waiting to be attended to.

Do you take care of all ailments?

We focus on non-communicable diseases, accounting for more than 60 per cent of deaths, including hypertension and diabetes screening. We also take mobile clinics to communities and markets to deliver healthcare services for health conditions like malaria, diarrhoea, upper respiratory tract infections and basic eye screening for reading, to improve productivity and prevention of blindness. We have a health agent that can use point-of-care devices.

How has it been?

So far, so good. Of course a lot of challenges. Just a few feel that as a female you can’t do it. Even getting support is sometimes difficult, but I would say, I have been fortunate. Some people have seen what we do and decided to key in. At the initial time, it wasn’t because of money, but we are to move from one thing to the other. Today, people are accepting it, and partnering with us, because we are making an impact. We are also creating employment for a lot of people.

What are some of the major challenges you face with the project?

Security is a major challenge because we move around the villages to deliver healthcare. Also, we still have challenges with how people accept healthcare. A lot of cultural practices need to be abolished. There is a need to educate people. There is a brain drain. You see, medical personnel are leaving the country all the time. So most of the time, we also have to ensure that we have qualified people to do the work and continue to train more people to do it.

How long do you intend to do this?

I have done it for five years. This is a legacy project, it is not something that would end. That is why you can see that most of my staff can function without me. I have projects in Lagos and I have never been there until we have been able to draw people into that drainage, Market Doctor. The thing is that of interest. So once you have the interest, we can move.

Do you see yourself owning a big hospital in future?

That is not my vision. I would rather be happy if I have more than 100,000 health workers scattered around Nigeria and reaching people.

What do you like and hate about people’s attitudes to health issues?

What I don’t like is that generally, Nigerians don’t prepare for their health. They have this belief of “I reject it in Jesus’ name that I am not going to fall ill”. Therefore, they don’t prepare for ill health. They can only prepare for Owambe parties in advance, and prepare to buy a car or house, but they never prepare for ill health.  People are not doing health insurance. They are not even keeping emergency funds for their health. When people fall ill, they tend to go borrowing, and if they don’t get someone to borrow, at times it costs them their lives or makes them look for inferior medical care. Nigerians should learn to do better, place health as a top of their priority and prepare in advance for ill health.

What can you say about the Nigerian health sector looking at what you are doing in Market Doctor?

We need to refocus. We should put down grandeur projects. The building of 1000-bed hospitals, and bringing in big pieces of equipment, because there are even no doctors to fit in these hospitals. People can’t afford to use these equipment. We need to go down to the grassroots. If it is well in the grassroots as regards tertiary care, then a lot of people would not even need the second or tertiary care that we are all checking after. Again, we need to invest in our health workers. When I mean health workers, I am not talking only about doctors. I am also talking about community health workers, health extension workers, and paramedicals. We need to invest in them. They can do much more than they are doing. We are losing medical professionals to other teams because there is no encouragement in the sector.

What can you say about the fate of Medical Practitioners in Nigeria?

Generally, I think doctors in Nigeria are not well compensated. When I talk about compensation, I am not only talking about income. I am talking about different aspects of compensation and enumerations, such as allowances and working conditions. The training is extremely rigorous and the work is extremely sensitive. And the reward for all of these should be very tangible. That’s why we are having a brain drain. The brain drain is also not about money, it is about the remuneration and conditions of service.

Would you like to go and work abroad if you have the opportunity?

Yes. I would like to work abroad if the conditions are fantastic, and then there is an opportunity for research and growth. But what happens is that, when what you do is fuelled by passion, and not by money, you just find that you are somehow stuck to doing it and you find a lot of joy in doing it, and there are a lot of obstacles that had come, but you were able to overcome them. In business, sometimes you cry when you see obstacles that seem that you can’t even overcome, but somehow, God makes a way. I think also that posterity, the grace that comes from helping people, also makes the way for you. Going abroad in itself. There are a lot of other things one could even do in Nigeria, without even going abroad, but if you find purpose in what you do, until you have accomplished your mission, you will not look back.

Doctors are being kidnapped almost daily. What can be done about it?

I don’t think it is only doctors that are being kidnapped. All categories of people are being kidnapped. The moment the kidnapper perceives that the reward will be handsome, they go along and kidnap. Probably doctors are also an endangered specie because people expect that when they are kidnapped, their colleagues would rally around them and they would put together money and they would be able to pay the kidnappers. I think, too, to avoid kidnapping, the basic security rules are the things everybody should obey. They include not being flamboyant, being security conscious, keeping a very good travel diary and informing your family about where you would be at a particular time. Then, of course, avoid travelling at a particular time of the day and night, and also avoid dangerous areas. But in all of this, we can’t afford not to move around. Travelling is part of life. I think in this regard, the government has to do more about security.

What’s your reaction to the high cost of obtaining drugs in Nigeria?

Some people in Nigeria earn a daily income, and when people earn daily income, they have to do other things apart from that and, they will not be able to attend to their health care because going to attend to their health care means, missing work. So the issue is poverty. And I think the solution to this issue is education. If we can improve our level of education, it will go a long way. If everybody has at least primary education, then they can look up to preventive care because, with education, you can do a lot with preventive care. When you are not educated, you can’t be taught the proper understanding of preventive care, so you fall into curative, which means you have to keep on buying.

Does the problem of fake drugs pose any danger to your work?

For us, we have never had the issue of fake drugs, because we partner directly with pharmaceuticals and they supply the drugs directly to us. Our drugs and commodities are supplied by vetted and reliable companies. We have never had to deal with the issue of fake drugs if anybody collects drugs with us.

What’s one of the memorable moments you have had with your outreach?

This is something that, instantly, you see things happen. There was a man, a Babaloja (market leader) of a particular market whose blood sugar measurement we took, and it was extremely high. He never knew that he had a blood sugar problem. We went to the office, took it again and we told him the same thing, and they admitted him immediately. He came back after he was well, thanking us, saying that he would just have died. There are so many of these kinds of issues diagnosed by the outreach.