I am fortunate enough to be spending my Christmas in India, a lovely and complex country which I have had the pleasure of visiting numerous times.  What is fascinating is the juxtaposition of ancient and new, rich and poor. On the one hand here is a country that provides technology outsourcing to organisations around the world and yet the technology infrastructure within the country itself is patchy to say the least.  Plagued with numerous power shortages, dodgy wiring (I have had the misfortune of having two electric shocks since I have been here) and inefficient fixed line telecommunications the country’s growth could have been in danger of stalling as a result of these major issues.

What has happened, however, is that India has leapfrogged fixed line telecommunications to go straight to mobile communications.  Whilst the power cuts are still a major issue, communications and mobile internet access have not been too hampered.  I was particularly struck by the number of ordinary (as opposed to wealthy) Indians walking around using mobile phones.

This access to mobile technology, including phone cameras, but not to reliable fixed line, pc access also partially explains the high uptake and usage of social media within India.  Culturally a social people anyway social media is also particularly suited to mobile technology and in such a huge country with such temperamental infrastructure social media offers a number of benefits, above and beyond just being social and sharing photos.

Research shows that social media users in India are far more engaged than their counterparts in the USA and Europe, with nearly 80% acting as creators ( as opposed to around 25% in the USA and Europe).  Indian social media users are also far more active with only 7% being inactive versus 21% in Europe. This of course needs to be taken in perspective that the percentage penetration is still very low, but for a country with 1.21 billion people even a small percentage is still a large number of people.

Social media usage is also different from Europe and the USA with picture and video being even more popular, in part as a result of the multiple languages of India making text more of an issue. Facebook has also been lagging behind Orkut until recently, and whilst Orkut still has more registered users Facebook now leads in active users and has overtaken Orkut as the 4th most popular website.

The infrastructure has also been an issue for healthcare provision.  India has some fantastic healthcare service providers, with highly qualified medical professionals, state of the art hospitals in the cities and a well developed pharmaceutical industry.  The issue is however access to healthcare for those that cannot afford to pay for it and in particular in rural areas where the nearest hospital is often miles and miles away.

This is where mobile technology could really make a huge difference, providing access to free health information even in rural areas.  Of course poor literacy in some parts of the country are a huge issue here but in other parts of India, such as Kerala, there is high literacy and reasonable English, opening up access to this information to a swathe of the population  who in the past could only have accessed this information by paying for it and/or travelling a considerable distance to get it.

This combination of mobile access, global health communities, be they HCP or patient communities, and  reasonable literacy and English language could potentially have a hugely beneficial impact on communities in India.  This is an area that is still new but is growing rapidly, and given the significant value to the population, will undoubtedly  continue to grow.  Watch this space : India + mobile + health + social media = huge and interesting opportunities!

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