Waste for health: SOSO Care uses an unconventional approach to provide health insurance in Nigeria
With around 8 million tonnes of plastic released into the environment each year, plastic pollution; due to the fact that it is non-degradable, is able to affect lands, rivers and oceans, consequently causing the death of sea and land creatures, causing danger to the soil, emitting toxic gases when it is exposed or heated and blocking the drainage line to cause flooding and erosion.
On the other hand, the poor access to health care that prevails in sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst in the world, with few countries able to spend the $ 34-40 per year per person that the World Health Organization considers to be. the minimum for basic health care. Despite widespread poverty, 50% of health spending in the region is financed by direct payments from individuals.
In this interview with Nairametrics, Nonso Opurum, Founder of SOSO Care, explains how the platform uses a “trash for health” solution to address these issues. Extract:
What is SOSO Care and what problem is the platform helping to solve in Nigeria?
SOSO Care is a low cost health insurance platform that accepts cash or recyclables as a premium to enable millions of people to access care in over 1,000 hospitals in Nigeria.
SOSO Care was created with the aim of providing a common solution to 2 development challenges facing Nigeria and most of the developing countries; access to health and waste management in fast growing slums.
Given that 85% of Nigerians do not have access to basic health insurance, this simply means that around 180 million people have to depend on money out of their pocket to finance their health needs. And for low-income households and micro-entrepreneurs, the disease can be financially catastrophic, as it erodes their savings, depletes working capital, leads to loan defaults and indebtedness. Thus, this situation contributes to push millions of people into poverty due to an unexpected financial burden on health, especially those working in the informal sector, which represents over 65% of the Nigerian workforce. .
It is worse for women, as the number of maternal deaths in Nigeria is mainly the result of this lack of access to basic health services. Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of maternal deaths in the world and accounts for around 20% of maternal deaths globally, although these deaths can be prevented with access to quality health care.
On the other hand, Nigeria generates around 32 million tonnes of solid waste per year and around 20 billion pet plastics, of which less than 10% is collected and recycled. We are not even talking about the water packs in sachets consumed and thrown indiscriminately on a daily basis. Most of the waste is generated by households and in some cases by local industries, artisans and traders littering the immediate surroundings. In most cases, the litter blocks the drainages that breed mosquitoes, a vector of malaria that affects more than 300,000 people each year in Nigeria.
As a business, we look at both issues which are huge and catastrophic even though they both offer significant economic opportunities. We’ve been thinking about the best way to use one problem to solve the other problem. So we created SOSO Care, a low cost health insurance that accepts cash or recyclable products as a premium – that works for health inclusion and environmental sustainability.
Can you tell us more about SOSO Care’s approach to solving health problems in Nigeria through waste recycling and how it works?
By partnering with Hygeia HMO to underwrite the insurance risk, members access care by choosing a plan and paying online or by simply delivering recyclable materials like bottles, glass and plastic bags, equivalent to the premium, to our partner agents who resell the waste collected to large recycling companies as raw materials. The money generated by sales is converted into a health fund to finance the premium for access to health care in more than 1,000 hospitals across the country.
Insurance distribution is difficult because trust is a huge issue. SOSO Care allows underserved communities to benefit from our waste for health service in 2 ways: Users can finance their own health plan by exchanging recyclable materials directly at one of the SOSO Care collection points made available . In addition, SOSO Care also partners with municipalities, companies or unions to collect their recyclable waste in exchange for health coverage for targeted groups; they can be their employees, members or beneficiaries of specific CSR programs.
Based on your approach, is it fair to suggest that SOSO Care targets only the less privileged or are there other plans that cover the middle class and high income earners?
Well, we are focusing on the unorganized informal sector. As a microinsurance provider, our goal is to provide last mile health coverage to millions of people.
To what extent does “waste as premium” cover individuals and families? Does it cover serious health problems such as cancer?
We cover basic health conditions including inpatient and outpatient care. We focus on daily primary health issues such as diagnostics, minor surgery, antenatal care, accidents, hospitalization, pharmacy and medication, x-rays, etc. We do not cover pre-existing conditions like cancer or diabetes.
How well have you been able to deliver according to the platform vision?
I am grateful for what we have done in a short period of time and look forward to the future. We recycled a significant amount of plastic, added more policies and underwriters, including life coverage that costs just 3kg of plastic per month to protect users from accidents, permanent disability or death is covered in partnership with Tangerine Life and, above all, signed a memorandum of understanding with 3 states to recycle 12,000 tonnes of recyclable materials in exchange for health coverage for 56,000 people. Our goal is to focus on the distribution economy by creating more recyclable collection centers every 500 meters to ensure that our users recycle their waste with convenience.
What part of Nigeria are you covering right now and are there any plans for further expansion, inside and outside Nigeria, in the future?
Our service is active nationwide for users who pay cash online. Currently we have waste as an alternative form of bounty in 3 cities – Abuja, Kaduna and Abia State – but we hope to add Rivers State by November. Because SOSO Care’s business model is scalable, our focus now is on fundraising and growing nationwide. We also have plans to scale up in other countries both in Africa and Asia where there is an urgent need for intervention in health care and waste management.
How is SOSO Care embracing insurtech to improve insurance in Nigeria, especially in telemedicine, telehealth and telehealth?
SOSO Care, as an insurance company, leverages technology to improve the insurance value chain process for our users, whether at the payment level or at the point of access to care. Telemedicine is an important part of our service to ensure more people have access to healthcare as the world grapples with public health challenges. We hope to provide more robust services to reach more people.
Despite enormous resources, insurance in Nigeria still suffers from a huge setback. What factors do you think are responsible for this and what could be done to increase the number?
People don’t trust insurance and many don’t even know how it works. For millions of others, it is an expensive luxury. These are the key issues in insurance. Again, you need to manage distribution in disconnected communities. I think solving the problem has a lot to do with raising awareness and designing policies that people actually need instead of random generic coverage plans.
Can you tell us about the international awards and recognitions of SOSO Care lately?
Our work has been recognized by the World Health Innovation Summit, UN-Habitat, UNAIDS, the World Bank and many other institutions. With the right support, we hope to expand and replicate SOSO Care in Africa and Asia, where there is an urgent need for sustainable health interventions.
As a startup, SOSO Care has taken an important step. How do you plan to sustain this in the future?
Our future is to favor recyclable materials. We are also betting big on recycling for the premium. Because we have seen how it changes the way people talk about waste. Once again, it is an important factor in the sustainability of low-income families to meet their monthly renewal. I’ve seen cases of our users now using their recycling to redeem a bonus for loved ones in another city.
In recent times, the insurance landscape has attracted little to no investment due to economic issues such as inflation, currency devaluation and unstable policies. What are the expected roles of government, regulators and insurers to improve investment in insurance?
I think all stakeholders need to understand that insurance is also an instrument for financial inclusion, government and regulators need to put in place favorable policies which will help boost insurance penetration in Nigeria. Additionally, underwriters need to find a way to design simple fonts that meet the needs of the public instead of generic ones.