Trash can be Medicine

Posted on September 10, 2014

I heard the tragic story of Khaerunissa, the three-year-old daughter of a garbage collector who died in 2005 from chronic diarrhea because her father could not afford the medicine to treat her. As a doctor the story inspired me to create a change in the system, that there would not be any more Khaerunissas in Indonesia today.
I started Garbage Clinical Insurance (GCI) in March 2010 in Malang, Indonesia to solve two pressing problems: reducing trash and providing better healthcare to low-income communities. Currently, some 18% of Indonesia’s population lives on less than $1 a day with approximately half living on less than $2 a day. So there is a poverty issue. Households spend on average 2% of their income on healthcare, ranging from 1.6% in the lower-income groups to about 3.5% in the higher-income brackets. The attribution to healthcare is not a result of not considering health as important, but stems from the first problem of the population. Therefore the best way to solve a problem is to meet it at its point of need.
How does it work? Local residents can sell trash to GCI in exchange for healthcare services. To participate in the program, residents must first become a member, and after that bring in enough garbage to pay a minimum of $1 a month. GCI uses the donated garbage in two ways: organic waste is processed into commercial fertilizer while non-organic waste is recycled. Both are sold, raising funds to pay for the clinics’ services.
Despite the low premium cost, I am confident that GCI will be financially sustainable. Of the funds raised, about half goes to treating patients and the rest is spent on preventive care and education. Most of the staff work as volunteers, a total of 88 volunteers, plus 15 doctors and 12 nurses.
Since I started in 2010, we’ve added four more clinics, which were existing clinics that GCI has accredited. The clinics are in Bandung, Bekasi, Malang and Medan with a total of 500 members. We estimate that we have helped more than 2,000 people since we started. There are pros and cons to being recognized as a ‘solution’ to social issues. On the one hand you play an active role in the conversations relating to healthcare on a global scale. Everyday I hope that my voice can drive a bigger change. On the other hand people have extremely high expectations of your project to perform better, and do more. I am grateful for the work I am able to do, but at the forefront of this thought is my gratefulness to God.
For his efforts, Gamal in January was awarded a special prize from the multinational Unilever, the first-ever HRH the Prince of Wales Young Sustainability Entrepreneur award, selected from over 500 applicants from around the world. For this prize, he flew to England to personally receive it from Prince Charles and Unilever CEO Paul Polman at a gala event held at Buckingham Palace.
I am Gamal Albinsaid
I am Youngpreneur