Lives of the fellows

Olikoye Ransome-Kuti

b.30 December 1927 d.1 June 2003

Olikoye Ransome-Kuti was a distinguished paediatrician and campaigner who revolutionised health care in his home country, Nigeria. He was born in Ijebu Ode, in the south west of the country, into an eminent family of preachers and teachers. His father, the Reverend I O Ransome-Kuti, was the leading school teacher of the day and his mother, Funmilayo, was a leading women’s rights campaigner. His sister Dolu was a nurse, while he was the older brother of two of Nigeria's most influential figures - Beko, a human rights campaigner, and Fela, a world-famous musician.

After excelling at his medical studies at Dublin and his paediatric specialty training in London, he returned to become the first Nigerian professor of paediatrics at the University of Lagos College of Medicine.

After some years as an outstanding teacher and mentor, he realised that the solution to the major child health problems he was seeing in hospital lay in the communities from which the children came. Collaborating with like-minded colleagues, he was able to obtain support, first from the Ford Foundation and later from Johns Hopkins, USAID and a variety of other sources, to pioneer the creation of innovative integrated child and maternal primary care services, first in Lagos and later in pilot programmes in all four corners of Nigeria. These efforts were so successful that he was invited by the government to implement these programmes on a national scale.

His initial efforts as director of basic health services were undermined by a variety of entrenched forces and political intrigue. He then regrouped as the director of a new Institute of Child Health and as the first professor of primary health care at the University of Lagos. Having further developed his professional ideas, created better models of care and inspired a new cohort of health care workers, he was invited by the then president Babangida to implement his visionary primary care plans as Minister of Health. He held this position for an unprecedented seven years, during which time he worked with all the new and old states of Nigeria to set up combined federal, state and local authority primary care services. Travelling ceaselessly, he became the most recognisable and respected minister of an otherwise troubled military government, revolutionising health care in the process.

Later, while at the World Bank, he was instrumental in moving that somewhat inert body towards a more realistic position regarding the major health problems facing the developing world.

He was unique in his integrity, his devotion to the health of the people of his native land, his powerful advocacy at key international health meetings and in his ability to work with all levels of health workers, doctors, nurses, midwives and para-professionals. A superb clinician, he devoted himself to his patients, but always as a salaried professional, never for private gain. His intelligence, compassion, wisdom and exceptional honesty earned him such widespread respect that his presence inspired colleagues, students, patients and even politicians. Even when supposedly retired, his work never ended and his achievements are indelibly etched into the foundations of Nigeria’s on-going efforts to make life safe, productive and healthy for families, mothers and children.

When his brother Fela died from AIDS, he used the occasion to alert his country to the realities of that hitherto unmentionable epidemic.

Koye was a devoted husband to his beloved wife, Sonia Adetoro née Doherty, and father to their three children, who became a veterinarian, a doctor and a lawyer. He died in his hotel room in London, where he was attending a primary care conference.

Nicholas Cunningham
David Morley

[The Guardian 10 June 2003;, 2003 326 1400; The Lancet 2003 362 9378]

(Volume XII, page web)

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