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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Nigerians get health insurance by trading waste material

Jerome Ngutor was struggling with a persistent stomach ache but, like many Nigerians, he did not have enough money to see a doctor.

Then he learned about a novel idea for getting health insurance: collecting waste material and trading it for coverage.

He quickly signed up for Nigerian health tech outfit Soso Care, and after turning in a used car battery and plastic waste, he received a health insurance card and qualified to see a doctor.

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On his first visit this month to Anchor Hospital in Port Harcourt, the capital of the oil-producing state of Rivers, Ngutor was treated for a suspected stomach ulcer and given medication.

“I didn’t come with a kobo (penny) … and you can see they gave me the drugs, so I’m very happy,” said Ngutor, a 32-year-old father of three who sells sweet potatoes on the street.

Soso Care founder Nonso Opurum said he came up with the idea to help solve Nigeria’s twin problem, waste and lack of affordable health care. The waste, mainly plastic, is sold to local recycling companies or exported.

A nurse walks through the Lagos Mainland Hospital in Lagos, Nigeria, on January 21, 2022.
(Adetona Omokanye/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The research firm Statista says that only 3% of the population have health insurance in Nigeria. Most are government workers covered by the National Health Insurance System, leaving the majority of the 200 million people without health insurance.

In Nigeria, people often lose money due to financial scams and therefore do not trust insurance as they see it as an expensive luxury.

Government health facilities are affordable for many Nigerians, but they are poorly equipped, lacking drugs and equipment, contributing to a brain drain of qualified personnel.

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“We thought about how we can use one problem that is plastic polluting the environment to solve another problem, which is access to quality health care,” he told Reuters at a Saso Care center in Port Harcourt.

Government officials did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on the scheme.

Delivering a single-use battery to Saso Care will grant you access to health care for a year, while three kg of scrap metal and four to five kg of plastic waste can provide a month’s health coverage.

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Soso Care started at the end of 2019 but the coronavirus put a stop to its expansion plans. So far, 7,500 families are covered by the health insurance scheme and Opurum said the goal is to reach half of Nigeria’s population after five years.

Soso Care operates in four cities and will expand next year, Opurum said, adding that the firm was receiving inquiries from other African and Asian countries to replicate the project.

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