By BISI OLADAPO
In Nigeria, insurance companies are yet to develop life products especially for people living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV, and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases. Instead of making the products available by designing attractive policies that will encourage people to obtain them easily, insurance companies rather prefer to charge higher premium for already existing life products which are tagged substandard policies.
Unfortunately, the group of people who are supposed to benefit from this insurance cover are daily confronted with stigma. However, stigma is not universal. What is universal is provision of insurance cover for people living with life-threatening diseases like HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis, cancer, malaria, cryptococcal meningitis and so on. Obtaining insurance cover is not a big issue in advanced countries like the United Kingdom, UK, and the United States of America, US and even in some African countries. For example, Togo, South Africa and Zimbabwe, there is insurance cover for HIV positive people.
Due to the attendant stigma of these diseases, most people living with HIV and AIDS- related diseases in Nigeria do not take up insurance cover. Seyi Ifaturoti, managing director, Equity Life Insurance says that there has not been any client asking for the policy among this group of people, though there have been cases where after taking up insurance cover, the insured got infected and claims paid. She told the magazine there is really no insurance product for life-threatening diseases like HIV and AIDS in Nigeria. “Nigerians are not liberal with information. They don’t want to talk. That is just our culture. People don’t want to declare their status. But abroad, they say the fact and go ahead with life. This is why they have the effrontery to talk out and get adequate insurance cover”, she says.
Lending his voice to her assertion, Tony Aletor, managing director, Capital Express Insurance Company, said even though there are no special policies on ground in the country for them, insurance companies can easily develop life products. He says, “There is no specific product but we can develop products for them if they come forward. But as for now we don’t have any”. Ifaturoti and Aletor, both life insurance specialists explain that “there were no such policies in the past because the life-threatening diseases were not conversant in Nigeria until very recent.”
Fola Daniel, the chief executive officer of National Insurance Commission, NAICOM, the regulatory body of the risk-bearing industry attributes this to lack of readiness on the part of affected people to patronize life insurance policies. He told the magazine in Abuja that, “I think one of the major reasons in the past why people shy away from such cover is because we don’t have expertise. We don’t have data base. Insurance is a game of statistics because it is founded on probability theory. Unless you have data, you cannot project the probability of something happening”.
Kenny Borisade, managing director, SA Insurance, agrees that “some shy away while others rate the premium high because it is a substandard policy”. But Seun Ajayi managing director, Sovereign Trust Insurance, wonders, “how many people with life-threatening diseases are ready to pay such high premium”.
Even for the available conventional life insurance products, some of the people living with HIV who the magazine spoke to, complained that they were rejected by insurance companies as soon as their status was known. A HIV positive lady, who prefers to be identified as Ayo, told the magazine last week that, when she approached an insurance company last year to obtain a life policy for herself and her child who is HIV negative, the company was ready to cover her child but rejected her. For Obatunde Oladapo, who runs Positive Life Association of Nigeria, PLAN, a non-governmental agency based in Ibadan, his grouse is the demand for test by insurance companies before insuring people living with HIV and AIDS, Oladapo, who worked for a short time as a teacher before starting PLAN, is also HIV positive, and confident of his status. Even though he does not have insurance cover for now because he has not thought about it says “If I am told to do HIV test before doing insurance, it is not fair. I am not more of a risk than a pilot. HIV is not death threat; it does not reduce life if well managed. I don’t think or pray of death now because of my status”.
Mulika Saliu, a Mass Communication graduate, who is HIV positive but does not have insurance cover, also has this to say: “I don’t have insurance cover because I don’t really see it as something serious and important. The fact is I don’t believe in insurance due to lack of knowledge about it. If you are not informed, you can’t be knowledgeable about it”.
However, some experts expressed concern about insurance cover for people living with life-threatening diseases in workplace. Charles Okon, a businessman, who pointed out the risk involved in working with such people says that some of these diseases are infectious and do endanger the lives of other people around them. But Segun Ebitomi, a medical practitioner, counters that not all life-threatening diseases are infectious. According to him, “For HIV, the risk is close to zero level. The fact that you work with anybody who is HIV positive does not mean those who work with the person will be infested. There is no justification for stigma. But for tuberculosis, the risk is big”.
To guard workers against hazards, Mutiu Ganiyu, a Lagos-based legal practitioner, says there is workmen compensation insurance which employers of labor are expected to obtain for them. “There is no legislation to enforce insurance for people living with life-threatening diseases”, he adds.
Sunday Thomas, a director at NAICOM, says there is no need for a specific law for compulsory insurance of this category of people. “You don’t need any law. It is the business that will speak for itself. If you want the cover and you are ready to pay for it, you will get it. It is just that it’s not common because people are not ready to accept that they need it”, he concluded.
With the recapitalization of insurance companies, Daniel, who is the commissioner for insurance, believes that “the era of not giving cover for such diseases is fast going. The issue of the policy not being common in Nigeria is time sensitive. It is a developing process. Five years ago, no company would offer you insurance cover for the diseases. But the situation is going to change now because there will be more expertise and availability of data”.
Even though there is no specific law for this category of people, the Pension Reform Act, 2004, mandates employers to obtain group life policy for their workers. Owel Lakemfa, secretary-general, Nigeria Labor Congress, told the magazine that this law is binding on every employer with more than five workers whether they have life-threatening diseases or not. “It is the right of owners in both public and private sectors”, which he says, must be provided for them.
Investigations by the magazine reveal that only a handful of employers in the private sector have so far bothered to put in place this form of insurance for their workers since the legislation was signed into law. “Most employers are yet to obey this provision of the ACT”, Ifaturoti confirms.
Salisu calls for public enlightened by insurance industry so that people can appreciate it better. She notes that penetration of insurance is low in Nigeria and that even the so-called normal people are not patronizing insurance products. By and large, she wants even insurance operators themselves to be enlightened about life- threatening disease. “Attitudes of insurers should change. There is need to educate insurance practitioners that the ideas they have about HIV positive people is wrong”, she says.