Inspirational People in Healthcare: The Late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti (1927-2003)

Olikoye Ransome-Kuti

The late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti was a world-renowned paediatrician, health campaigner and a prominent figure in global health for many decades.

Professor Ransome-Kuti was born in Nigeria and studied medicine at Trinity College in Dublin from 1948 – 1954. He returned to Nigeria to practice medicine after his studies and then in 1960 he travelled back to the UK to begin his postgraduate training in paediatrics.  After his postgraduate training he once again returned to the country of his birth becoming professor and head of the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Lagos; in 1978, he became their first professor of primary care.

In 1968 he set up an experimental family health clinic which led to the establishment of the Institute of Child Health and Primary Care at the College of Medicine at the University of Lagos. In 1976 he became the director of the National Basic Health Services Scheme Implementation Agency for Nigeria and was involved in a first attempt to set up a national health system for Nigeria.

While lecturing at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Professor Ransome-Kuti impressed Ibrahim Babangida and when Babangida came into power in 1985 he appointed Professor Ransome-Kuti as Nigeria’s health minister.  Professor Ransome-Kuti held this position from 1985 to 1992 and he has been described as the “best Minister of Health Nigeria ever had.”

During his tenure as the Minister of Health he made a significant difference to the healthcare landscape in Nigeria – national health policy was further developed and then implemented, relationships between sectors was strengthened and  healthcare coverage across Nigeria increased significantly. He also made a huge difference in tackling the stigma around HIV/AIDS and his efforts at fighting the emerging epidemic was described as “heroic.” He had a busy period as Health Minister with many other achievements including overseeing a successful anti-smoking campaign which led to manufacturers adding warnings to their products.

After leaving his cabinet position in 1992, he became the chairman of WHO’s Executive Board and in 1994 he was appointed chair of the World Bank’s Better Health for Africa Panel where he championed the idea of primary healthcare to other African countries producing a blueprint for all countries to follow.

Professor Ransome-Kuti received numerous awards including the WHO Leon Bernard Award in 1986, an award that recognises a person for outstanding service in the field of social medicine. In 1990 he won the UNICEF Maurice Pate Award in recognition of his work in improving the health and welfare of children. He published many medical papers and held numerous teaching positions including a visiting professorship  at Johns Hopkins University’s school of hygiene and public health in Baltimore.

He was an effective campaigner speaking out against corruption and defending democracy and the rights of poor Africans. Campaigning and fighting for those who didn’t have a voice was something he was passionate about and seemed to run in his family. His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a women’s rights campaigner and was part of the team that negotiated Nigeria’s independence with the British. Whilst his brother was Fela Kuti the well-known musician, singer,  father of Afrobeat, human rights campaigner and political activist and his cousin Wole Soyinka is the Nobel Laureate, playwright, poet and political activist. 

Professor Ransome-Kuti was not only a brilliant man, but a nice person with his friends and colleagues describing him as a kind, caring, wise, gentle, humorous  and a direct individual. He was a family man and doting father being married to his wife Sonia Ransome-Kuti for 50 years and having three children – Dr Dotun Ransome-Kuti (Veterinary Doctor) , Dr Gboyega Ransome-Kuti (Medical Doctor) and  Bisoye Ransome-Kuti (Lawyer)

Professor Ransome-Kuti sadly died unexpectedly in 2003 from a pulmonary embolism whilst attending a WHO conference in London. He is greatly missed and his legacy lives on in Nigeria.

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