With an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic yearly released into the environment, plastic pollution; by virtue of being non-degradable, is capable of affecting land, waterways and oceans, consequently leading to the death of marine and land creatures, causing hazard to the soil, emitting toxic gasses when exposed or heated up and blocking the drainage line to cause flood and erosion.

On the other hand, the low access to healthcare prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst in the world, with few countries able to spend the $34 to $40 a year per person that the World Health Organization considers the minimum for basic health care. Despite widespread poverty, an astonishing 50 percent of the region’s health expenditure is financed by out-of-pocket payments from individuals.

In this interview with Nairametrics, Nonso Opurum, Founder of SOSO Care, explains how the platform is utilizing a ‘trash for health’ solution, to solve these problems. Excerpt:

What is SOSO Care and what problem is the platform helping to solve in Nigeria?

SOSO Care is a low-cost health insurtech platform which accepts cash or recyclables as premium to enable millions of people to access care across over 1,000 hospitals in Nigeria.

SOSO Care was created with the objective of providing a joint solution to 2 development challenges faced by Nigeria and most developing countries; access to health and waste management in rapidly growing urban slums.

Because 85% of Nigerians don’t have access to basic health insurance, this simply means about 180 million people need to rely on out-of-pocket money to finance their health needs. And for low-income households and micro-entrepreneurs, being ill can be financially catastrophic, as it erodes their savings, depletes working capital, causes loan repayment default and indebtedness. So this situation contributes to pushing millions of people into poverty because of unexpected health finance burden, particularly people working in the informal sector, which accounts for over 65 % of the Nigerian workforce.

It is worse on women, as the number of maternal deaths in Nigeria is mainly resulting from this lack of access to basic health services. Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of maternal deaths in the world and accounts for about 20% of global maternal death although these deaths could be prevented with quality healthcare access.

On the other hand, Nigeria generates an estimated 32 million tons of solid waste annually and about 20 billion pet plastics out of which less than 10% is collected and recycled. We are not even talking about sachet water packs consumed and trashed indiscriminately daily. Most of the waste is generated by households and in some cases, by local industries, artisans and traders which litter the immediate surroundings. In most cases, the litter blocks drainages which breed mosquitoes, a vector for Malaria that affects over 300,000 people every year in Nigeria.

As a company, we look at both problems which are huge and catastrophic even though they both offer significant economic opportunities.  We thought of how best we can use one problem to tackle the other problem so we created SOSO Care, as a low-cost health insurance that accepts cash or recyclables as premium – which works for health inclusion and environmental sustainability.

Can you tell us more about SOSO Care’s approach to solving health issues 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 sell the collected waste to big recycling companies as raw materials. The money generated from the sales is converted into a health fund to finance the premium to access healthcare across over 1,000 hospitals nationwide.

Distributing insurance is hard as trust is a huge problem. SOSO Care makes it possible for underserved communities to benefit from our wastes-for-health service via 2 ways: Users can finance their own health plan by redeeming recyclables directly in one of SOSO Care’s collection points, made available. Also, SOSO Care also partners with municipalities, corporates, or trade unions to collect their recyclable wastes in exchange for health cover for targeted groups; it may be their employees, members, or beneficiaries of specific CSR programmes.

From your approach, is it right to imply 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 focused on the unorganized informal sector. As a micro-insurance provider, our goal is to bring last mile health cover to millions of people.

To what extent does the ‘waste as premium’ cover individuals and families?  Does it cover severe health conditions such as cancer?

We cover basic health conditions including inpatient and outpatient care. We focus on everyday primary health conditions like diagnostics, minor surgery, antenatal, accident, hospital admission, pharmacy and drugs, X-ray etc. We don’t cover pre-existing conditions like cancer or diabetes

How far have you been able to deliver in line with the vision of the platform?

I am grateful for what we have done over a short time and look forward to the future. We have recycled a significant amount of plastics, added more policy and underwriters including a life cover which cost just 3KG of plastics monthly to protect users against accident, permanent disability or death is covered in partnership with Tangerine Life and importantly, signed MOU with 3 states to recycle 12000 tonnes of recyclables in exchange for health cover of 56,000 people. Our goal is to focus on distribution economics by creating more recyclable collection centres across every 500 meters to ensure our users recycle their waste with convenience.

What part of Nigeria do you cover at the moment and are there plans for further expansion, within and outside of Nigeria, in future?

Our service is active nationwide for users who pay cash online. Currently, we have the waste as an alternative form of premium in 3 cities – Abuja, Kaduna and Abia State – but hoping to add Rivers state by November. Because SOSO Care business model is scalable, our goal now is to raise money and scale nationwide. We also have plans of scaling in other countries both in Africa and Asia where there is urgent need for health care intervention and waste management.

How is SOSO Care embracing insurtech to enhance insurance in Nigeria especially with regard to telemedicine, telehealth and telecare? 

SOSO Care as an insurance company is leveraging technology to improve the insurance value chain process for our users either on payment or point of accessing care. Telemedicine is a strong part of our service to ensure more people access care importantly as the world struggles with public health challenges.  We hope to offer more robust services to reach more people.

In spite of enormous resources, insurance in Nigeria still suffers a huge setback. In your opinion, what factors are responsible for this and what could be done to raise the figure?

People don’t trust insurance and many don’t even know how it works. To millions of others, it is an expensive luxury. These are the key problems of insurance. Again, you have to deal with distribution in disconnected communities. I think solving the problem has a lot to do with awareness and also designing policies that people would actually need instead of random generic cover plans.

Can you tell us about SOSO Care’s international awards and recognitions in recent times?

Our work has been recognized by the World innovation summit on health, UN-Habitat, UNAIDS, World Bank, and many other institutions. With the right support, we hope to scale and replicate SOSO Care in Africa and Asia where there is an urgent need for sustainable health intervention.

As a startup, SOSO Care has hit a significant milestone. How are you planning to sustain this in future?

Our future is to focus on recyclables as a premium. We are also betting big on recycling for premium. Because we have seen how it is changing the narrative of people around waste. Again, it is a strong factor for sustainability for low-income families to meet their monthly renewal. I have seen cases of our users who now use their recycle to redeem a premium for their loved ones in another city.

In recent times, the insurance landscape has attracted little or no investment owing to economic issues such as inflation, devalued currency and unstable policies. What are the roles expected of the government, regulators and insurers to improve investment in insurance?

I think all stakeholders must understand that insurance is also an instrument of financial inclusion, government and regulators need to set up favourable policies that will help drive insurance penetration in Nigeria. Also, underwriters need to find a way to design simple policies that serves public needs instead of generic policies.