By Mark Kawalya
Tanzania has more than 40 million mobile subscribers, which is impressive, yet in comparison, only 4 million people have taken up health insurance. This is especially prevalent among low-income earners and informal workers who cannot afford even the entry-level packages of insurance coverage.
Jamii a local startup, offers a mobile phone-based health insurance scheme that can be accessed for a monthly contribution of as little as $1 and is targeted at Tanzania’s low-earners.
In Africa, high medical bills that are paid out of pocket plunge more than 11 million people into poverty each year.
Lillian Makoi, founder of Jamii believes women need to start seeing the opportunities presented by problems in society. She decided to find a solution to poor health insurance penetration when the husband of her housecleaner died because of a lack of money for his health care.
“Given my background in telecoms, it was easy for me to unpack what the administrative costs would be and how to digitize insurance products through a mobile app,” Makoi explained. “Then, we had to make it affordable for insurers to quote policies for the informal sector, work on developing partnerships, and start building the product”
The startup has made partnerships with Vodacom Tanzania, which is the lead telecom and mobile money service provider in Tanzania, and Jubilee Insurance. Users can select coverage that lasts for three, six, or twelve-month periods for either individuals or families with up to four members. The packages are affordable and cover many of the day-to-day medical needs a person would need.
Launched in 2017, Jamii has so far registered more than 35,000 subscribers and handled more than 6,000 insurance policies. The firm makes revenue by charging a small administrative fee on users’ monthly remittances. While all this sounds like taking a walk in the park, Makoi points out that the journey has not been easy and getting funding was a major hurdle.
Makoi wants to work with insurance regulators and players in the Tanzanian financial sector to increase Jamii’s insurance inclusion.
“The government has been supportive. The insurance regulator has allowed room for testing innovative products, and has been willing to adapt their policies, ” Makoi said. “The government understands that no one entity can solve the access to health care problems, and they’re very welcoming.”
She also recognizes that this is not just a Tanzanian problem and wants to expand to more countries across the continent, starting with Kenya. While the Kenyan insurance market is more competitive, Makoi believes the positive impact of heightened competition would be good for the startup.