Adeola Ayoola is a young Nigerian woman who aims to contribute her quota to improving the quality of life of individuals around her, by simplifying medications for people with recurrent needs.
The Pharmacy graduate from the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University is the CEO and co-founder of Famasi Africa, a digital health platform that helps people access medications, get doorstep delivery, automate monthly refills, enjoy free follow-ups & connect with Healthcare Providers.
Her problem-solving intuition and career trajectory is a result of self-belief, sheer determination, an articulate plan for success and a drive towards solving underlying sectoral issues in Africa.
Born and raised in Abeokuta in Southwestern Nigeria as the first daughter in a family of six, the desire to care for others was imbibed in her from a young age. Adeola Ayoola continues to make a positive impact on society after picking inspiration to pursue Pharmacy from a community pharmacist she observed while growing up.
Other than the undergraduate degree in Pharmacy, Adeola Ayoola has added more feathers to her cap. She holds a degree in Leadership and Management in Health from the University of Washington, and a certificate in Gender, Sexual, and Reproductive Health from USAID.
In this instalment of Founders’ Spotlight, Ayoola Adeola discusses the inspiration behind Famasi Africa, her experience as a health worker in Nigeria, her personal and social life, and more.
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Many Nigerians were put on their career paths by their parents, the University system, or other circumstances that arise when seeking admission.
Adeola Ayoola does not fall into this category, as she was determined to be a pharmacist because of her admiration for the profession from a young age. She had always considered pharmacists as respected and reputable people in society.
“I wanted to study pharmacy in the University, so it’s not one of those stories of someone wanting to study medicine and was given pharmacy.”
“Growing up I saw a particular pharmacist in my area who was respectable and had a chain of pharmacies, so I admired her.”Adeola Ayoola
University education from Nigerian federal institutions such as Obafemi Awolowo University can be unstable. There are industrial actions, protests, and other circumstances that lead to pauses in the academic calendar. These events and gaps might sometimes affect an individual’s mental health.
However, Adeola Ayoola explained that she did not let these events deter her and her dreams, and she pulled through and was intentional about working for pharmaceutical companies.
“It was a glamorous life I wanted, but on graduating I thought I wanted to own a chain of retail pharmacies too because I had been working in some pharmacies and was happy with the testimonies I received from persons I prescribed drugs to.”
“Also, my experience at the National hospital was where all of these started.”
What was your experience at the National Hospital like
In 2017, Adeola Ayoola worked as a counsellor at the National Hospital, Abuja. The medical institution is widely regarded as one of the best in the country, and several severe medical cases are referred to due to its capacity and modernized infrastructure.
The facility consistently received many patients needing urgent medical attention and, most times needing a refill of their medications, especially those with terminal and chronic conditions like HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and hypertension.
“There is only one National Hospital in Nigeria, which means all the cases that many of the other regional and federal hospitals would typically reject would be referred there, so it was a really really packed hospital.”
“However, the experience was really great for me, because I ended up working in the HIV/AIDS clinic. This afforded me first hand experience on managing meds for people on antiretroviral drugs on a daily basis.”
“A typical clinic day would see over 120 people waiting to get their medicines. This number was almost the same for every other clinic day which ran from Monday till Thursday. This number was just from one unit of the hospital. The problem of long waiting lines was the same in other health units of the hospital.”Adeola Ayoola
Although HIV/AIDS is no longer the public health threat that it once was in many countries due to the help of peer education, the use of contraception, and the introduction of modern prevention and treatment medicines that halt the progression to AIDS and prevent transmission to others, it is still the 4th leading cause of death in Africa.
According to Statista, 1.9 million people in Nigeria were living with HIV as of 2021, with many women and children affected. Adeola Ayoola admits that HIV is still prevalent in Nigeria despite the high sensitization towards it.
“People are very much sensitized about HIV/AIDS. There have been so many programs. December 1 is World HIV/AIDS day, and there is usually many programs, even at the primary level where people are informed on safe sex practices.”
“Antiretrovirals are also free in government hospitals”, Adeola Ayoola explained.
The inspiration behind Famasi Africa
The World Health Organization estimates that the current shortage of health workers, including pharmacists, is over 7.2 million worldwide and that, by 2035, the shortage will reach 12.9 million. Pharmacists, in particular, are lacking in the workforce in many countries.
For example, some Nigerians consider being a medical doctor more attractive than being a pharmacist. But for Adeola Ayoola, being a pharmacist has always been her desire.
However, her continuous drive to provide solutions needed in the health sector stems from her experience and identification of the many problems confronting the sector. She claims her co-founder also shares this inspiration.
“It is really just myself and my co-founder trying to leverage tech to solve problems we’ve had first-hand experience with. In the HIV/AIDS clinic (in the National Hospital), these people had to come physically, lose productive hours, endure stigmatization yet forget to take their meds as prescribed.”Adeola Ayoola
“This is not just for people suffering from HIV/AIDS alone, people suffering diabetes, cancer and many others had to endure long queues to get their drugs. They get the medicines, and they don’t take them as prescribed,” she added.
She further explains that limited access and affordability are leading to many deaths in the country as people are stressed from finding hospitals or pharmacies that have what they need for a relatively cheap amount.
Adeola Ayoola’s life outside saving lives
Superheroes don’t always have capes and crests, but they all try to lead normal lives when they are not solving crimes or saving lives. Working without recreation is unhealthy, and individuals must find different ways to relax.
Adeola Ayoola’s typical day involves thinking about ideas that satisfy Famasi Africa clients and resolve their everyday concerns because the startup is still in its early stages. However, outside of work, she relieves the stress by working out in the gym and watching some of her favourite TV shows.
She also loves going shopping and trying new and unfamiliar things on the menus of restaurants.
“My favorite series are medical series like New Amsterdam, Grey’s Anatomy, Station 19 and the likes. I like movies, but I just don’t have time to watch movies like that anymore. I have a social life, I have seen the House of Dragons”
Adeola Ayoola claims there are often ecosystem gatherings which affords her the time to meet colleagues. However, there are connections with individuals outside the ecosystem sometimes, majorly through socials like Twitter and WhatsApp.
For her, there is a really no “stipulated time” or structure to relate and hold conversations with family and friends.
“Most times, it’s asynchronous, but then it is she regularly connects with those close to her, especially her mom which she “calls every morning before going to work”.
Her take on the education system
The education system in Nigeria is characterized with several imbalances and instabilities such that students become mentally tired from incessant strikes and disruptions to academic calendars that create unnecessary long stays in school.
Adeola Ayoola thinks Nigeria’s education system can be terrible and frustrating. However, it gives students the opportunity to learn skills and be better.
“In as much as the university system now makes it long and tiring and somewhat time-wasting for students, it also gives them that opportunity to learn things and have skills that would make them stand out after they leave.”Adeola Ayoola
Take on the Health Sector in Nigeria
It is not news that the Nigerian health sector could be improved significantly to benefit the citizens. Adeola Ayoola feels the sector is broken and doesn’t provide a flow of operations.
“Healthcare is broken. Its interoperability is one of the major problems of the sector because the current system does not allow for free flow of information within the care continuum.”
According to her, “that system that allows everybody in the health space to operate as one, doesn’t exist.” This makes it very difficult for the patients to manage their health, sometimes making patients become supply chain analysts.
The absence of more public-private partnerships is another issue the sector is facing. She stated that although there are some partnerships between private organisations and public bodies to improve the health sector, Nigerians would benefit from more collaborations.
“It is not a sector that just one player can provide solutions for, there has to be collaborations between every stakeholder in the industry to solve problems.”
Working on something new?
For Adeola, there is much to be expected from Famasi Africa.
“We are working on multiple partnerships with more providers and HMOs and pharmacies.”
The company is working on “multiple Partnerships & Integrations, stronger footprint in the 16 States we operate plus expansion into Ghana & Rwanda. We are also working on our Mobile App to improve personalization”, she says..
Advice to fellow founders
Although Nigeria hasn’t fully tapped into the HealthTech market and doesn’t have as many breakthroughs or startups as other countries, the sector is increasing in popularity because of companies like Famasi Africa.
Adeola advised other tech founders to seek more resting time to keep the body well enough to run well.
“They should take time to rest and pay attention to their health. Being in the space is very tasking, as there is always a fire to put out, but that’s why there is the need to trust Famasi Africa to do that for them.”
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