Emergency Response Africa: Building Nigeria’s largest network of emergency responders to save lives

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When Folake Owodunni’s one-year-old son began screaming in pain at 2am in 2017, she knew something was terribly wrong. After several attempts to calm him down failed, she did the only thing she could think of – call 9-1-1. 

Like many immigrants to North America, she knew the emergency number mostly from movies. This time she experienced it. Within 10 minutes of calling for help, two trained paramedics arrived in the Owodunni home and treated her son for what turned out to be severe ear pain. In less than half an hour, the little boy was back asleep, and the paramedics advised that they did not need to ride in the ambulance or visit the hospital.

“I began reflecting on what we would have done if we had been at home in Nigeria. In between waking a neighbour to drive us to the nearest hospital, and not being sure whether the hospital would have the capacity to receive and treat us, I knew that it could have been a different, much scarier experience,” said Owodunni, CEO of Emergency Response Africa.

This experience prompted her to build what is now Emergency Response Africa, a health tech company that delivers fast, reliable emergency medical services. In Nigeria, more than 200,000 people die from road accidents, cardiovascular diseases, and pregnancy complications, just three of the top causes of emergencies. Most Nigerians admit to having experienced or witnessed a medical emergency where a good response was lacking.

“ERA is building the largest network of First Responders, emergency vehicles and vetted emergency-ready hospitals to make sure that when someone needs help, a trained responder can be on the scene in minutes to start treatment. In an environment where 92% of people take themselves to the hospital because they don’t trust that an ambulance will arrive on time if they call, having a reliable service to provide prompt treatment at the scene and transfer to the right hospital is critical,” Owodunni said.

ERA launched a pilot in Lagos in March 2021 and has since addressed nearly 300 emergency requests, achieving response times as low as 9 minutes. “In a place like Lagos, traffic is a huge problem for everyone. What sets us apart is our focus on building a robust network of partners and using technology to improve speed.” 

Since launching, ERA’s network has grown to include 45 first responders, 65 ambulances and 15 hospital partners, with representation in multiple states. “We get several calls a day from individuals needing urgent help or patient transfers between hospitals. We are proud of the partnerships we have built including with other health tech companies and health insurers, and we are seeing a lot of interest from corporates in industries like logistics, energy, construction.” By generating both fees for service and subscription revenues, ERA is poised for growth. ERA’s solution to addressing healthcare in Nigeria has also been bolstered by the startup’s acceptance into the Next Innovation With Japan Accelerator, a business accelerator program organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in partnership with Ventures Platform Foundation.

So, what’s next for the ERA team? “Our goal now is to strengthen that network in key locations across Nigeria, which positions us as the go-to emergency services provider. We will continue to strengthen our partnerships with both private and public sectors, and with the right support and funding, we expect that in the next 3 years we’ll be talking about Africa and even other emergency types. Our CTO is from Ghana, and she lost a close family member in an emergency due to poor response. We know that this is a pan-African issue, and with an estimated 100million emergency incidents annually in Africa the market opportunity is huge.”

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