With an estimated 8 million tons of plastic annually released into the environment, plastic pollution; By virtue of being non-degradable, they are able to affect land, waterways and oceans, thus leading to the death of marine and terrestrial organisms, causing danger to the soil, emitting toxic gases when exposed or heated and blocking the drain line to cause flooding and erosion.
On the other hand, poor access to healthcare prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst in the world, with few countries able to spend $34 to $40 per year per capita that the World Health Organization considers a minimum for basic healthcare. Despite widespread poverty, a staggering 50 percent of health spending in the region is financed by out-of-pocket payments.
In this interview with Nairametrics, Nonso Opurum, founder of SOSO Care, explains how the platform uses a “litter for health” solution to solve these problems. Excerpts:
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 across more than 1,000 hospitals in Nigeria.
SOSO Care was established with the aim of providing a common solution to two development challenges faced by Nigeria and most developing countries; Access to health and waste management in fast-growing urban slums.
Since 85% of Nigerians do not have access to basic health insurance, this simply means that around 180 million people need to rely on their personal funds to finance their health needs. And for low-income families and small business owners, the disease can be financially disastrous, eroding their savings, draining working capital, and defaulting on loans and indebtedness. So this situation is contributing to the push of millions of people into poverty due to the unforeseen burden of health financing, especially people working in the informal sector, which represents more than 65% of the Nigerian workforce.
It is worse for women, as the number of maternal deaths in Nigeria is mainly caused by this lack of access to basic health services. Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and accounts for about 20% of maternal deaths globally although these deaths can be prevented through access to quality health care.
On the other hand, Nigeria generates an estimated 32 million tons of solid waste annually and about 20 billion pet plastics less than 10% of which is collected and recycled. We’re not even talking about water bag refills that are randomly consumed every day. Most of the waste is produced by households and in some cases by local industries and by artisans and traders who litter the immediate surroundings. In most cases, garbage clogs the drain that breeds mosquitoes, a vector of malaria that infects more than 300,000 people each year in Nigeria.
As a company, we look at both huge and catastrophic problems even though they offer significant economic opportunities. We thought about how best to use one problem to tackle the other, so we created SOSO Care, a low-cost health insurance that accepts cash or recyclables as a premium – and one 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 Insurance Risk Insurance, members can access care by choosing a plan and paying online or simply by offering recyclable items such as bottles, glass and plastic bags, equivalent to the premium, to our partner dealerships selling waste bundled to large recycling companies as raw materials. Funds from sales are transferred to a health fund to fund premium access to healthcare across more than 1,000 hospitals across the country.
Insurance distribution is difficult because trust is such a big problem. SOSO Care allows disadvantaged communities to benefit from our Waste for Health service in two ways: Users can fund their health plan by exchanging recyclables directly at one of the available SOSO Care collection points. Also, SOSO Care also collaborates with municipalities, companies or trade unions to collect recyclable waste in exchange for health coverage for target groups; They may be employees, members, or beneficiaries of specific CSR programs.
From your approach, is it correct to point out that SOSO Care is aimed only at the less fortunate or are there other plans that cover the middle class and higher income earners?
Well, we focus on the unorganized informal sector. As a micro-insurance provider, our goal is to provide last mile health coverage to millions of people.
To what extent does “waste as a premium” cover individuals and families? Does it cover serious health conditions such as cancer?
We cover essential health conditions including both inpatient and outpatient care. We focus on daily primary health conditions such as diagnosis, minor surgery, prenatal accidents, accidents, hospital admissions, pharmacy and medication, x-rays, etc. We do not cover pre-existing conditions such as cancer or diabetes
To what extent have you been able to achieve what aligns with the platform’s vision?
I am grateful for what we have done in such a short time and I look forward to the future. We have recycled a large amount of plastic, added more policies and safeguards including a life cover that costs only 3kg of plastic per month to protect users from accidents, permanent disability or death Covered in partnership with Tangerine Life and most importantly, signing a Memorandum of Understanding with 3 states to recycle 12,000 tons of recyclables in exchange for health coverage for 56,000 people. Our goal is to focus on the economics of distribution by establishing more recyclable collection centers across every 500m to ensure that our users can easily recycle their waste.
What part of Nigeria do you cover at the moment and are there plans for further expansion within Nigeria and beyond in the future?
Our service is nationwide active for users who pay with cash online. Currently, we have Waste as an alternative form of premium in 3 cities – Abuja, Kaduna and Abia State – but hope to add Rivers State by November. As the SOSO Care business model is scalable, our goal now is to raise funds and scale them nationwide. We also have plans to expand to other countries both in Africa and Asia where there is an urgent need for healthcare and waste management intervention.
How is SOSO Care adopting insurance technology to enhance insurance in Nigeria especially with regard to telemedicine, telehealth and telecare?
SOSO Care as an insurance company leverages technology to improve the insurance value chain process for our users either at the point of payment or at the point of care. Telemedicine is a powerful part of our service to ensure that more people have access to critical care as the world grapples with public health challenges. We hope to provide more powerful services to reach more people.
Despite the vast resources, insurance in Nigeria continues to suffer a major setback. What, in your opinion, are the factors responsible for this, and what can be done to raise the number?
People don’t trust insurance and many don’t even know how it works. For millions of others, it’s an expensive luxury. These are the main problems of insurance. Again, you have to deal with distribution in separate communities. I think solving the problem has a lot to do with awareness and designing policies that people really need rather than random public coverage plans.
Can you tell us about the recent SOSO Care International Awards and Recognitions?
Our work has been recognized by the World Innovation Summit for Health, UN-Habitat, UNAIDS, the World Bank, and many other institutions. With the right support, we hope to scale up and replicate SOSO care in Africa and Asia where there is an urgent need for sustainable health intervention.
As a startup, SOSO Care has achieved an important milestone. How do you plan to maintain this in the future?
Our future is to focus on recyclable materials as a premium. We’re also betting on recycling for a premium. Because we’ve seen how it changes people’s narratives about waste. Again, it is a strong factor for the sustainability of low-income families to meet the monthly renewal. I have seen cases of our users who are now using their recycle to redeem a premium for their loved ones in another city.
Recently, the insurance landscape has attracted little or no investment due to economic problems such as inflation, currency devaluation and unstable policies. What are the expected roles of government, regulators, and insurance companies to improve investment in insurance?
I believe all stakeholders should understand that insurance is also a tool for financial inclusion, and the government and regulators need to put in place favorable policies that will help drive insurance penetration in Nigeria. Also, guarantors need to find a way to design simple policies that serve public needs rather than public policies.