Nigerians trade waste material for health insurance

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Nov 10 (Reuters) – 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 heard about a new idea to get health insurance – collect waste material and exchange it for coverage.

He quickly joined Nigerian health tech outfit Soso Care, and after delivering a used car battery and plastic waste, he received a health insurance card and qualified to see a doctor.

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

“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 yams on the street sell.

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

Research firm Statista says only 3% of the population has health insurance in Nigeria. Most are government workers covered under the National Health Insurance System, leaving the majority of 200 million people without health insurance.

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

Government health facilities are affordable for many Nigerians, but they are poorly equipped, without drugs and equipment which contributes to a brain drain of skilled personnel.

“We thought how we can use one problem which 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 Reuters’ request for comment on the scheme.

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

Soso Care started at the end of 2019, but the coronavirus curtailed its expansion plans. So far, 7,500 families have been covered under the health insurance scheme and Opurum said the target 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 has received inquiries from other African countries and Asia to replicate the project.

Written by MacDonald Dzirutwe, Editing by Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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