India currently has 0.6 doctors for every 1000 people. It ranks 124th in the world for this statistic, lower than Iraq and Pakistan. Moreover, according to the government itself, 67% of enrolled doctors do not show up regularly for duty. Another study suggests that 26% of rural hospitals in India regularly take bribes for general admission. While getting health care in India is not straightforward, the number of deaths due to easily preventable illnesses is astounding. For example, over 2 million children under the age of 5 die each year in India due to water born illnesses alone. Bridging the gap with basic health care information is part of the solution. In countries like the US, with high internet penetration, web sites such as WebMD and Revolution Health serve this purpose. However, India only has 50 million internet connections serving a population of 1.2 billion, making this a suboptimal distribution medium. By contrast, the country now has over 500 million mobile phone connections, with tremendous penetration amongst the rural poor. That’s where the social venture mDhil comes into play.
mDhil.com was set up in 2007 by Nandu Madhava, who moved to Bangalore after graduating from Harvard Business School along with completing stints at the Peace Corps and Goldman Sachs. The business focuses on disseminating basic, but critical health care information to consumers via mobile phone. The service costs about Rs 1 per day and covers health topics such as diabetes, weight and diet, stress, sexual health and tuberculosis. Research conducted by mDhil suggests that most users have no understanding of sexually transmitted diseases, are not aware of what diet is best for diabetes, and don’t realize that tuberculosis is treatable. The service is available through most mobile operators and already has 200,000 paying subscribers, which is growing exponentially. mDhil also recently raised venture capital in order to further expand its penetration, enhance its content and pursue additional distribution channels including the thousands of village internet kiosks which are sprouting across rural India. Over the next 2 to 3 years, Nandu expects they will have subscriber numbers in the millions. India only spends 0.9% of GDP on health care, more than only four other countries in the world. With such neglect, a wide variety of scalable social ventures will be required to make a dent in the statistics. mDhil is one.