Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tuning health info to Indian audience

We are no strangers to receiving health tips on mobile phones, but mDhil takes a different approach to the service. 

“Most of the information sent out as SMS tips or on the Internet are geared towards western audiences,” says the online service’s founder, Nandu Madhava. “With mDhil, we are trying to help the Indian audiences manage their health better.” 

The idea for the company, which was launched in 2009, struck Madhava while he was working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Latin America. “I was a translator for the U.S. doctors working there. One common complaint was the lack of simple health information for people in the developing world that could be easily accessed and understood. Often issues like reproductive health and women’s health are taboo, so there is little discussion and information available.” 

The website,, is easy to navigate. Information is easy to find with topics neatly classified under headings such as ‘Diet and Nutrition’ and ‘Emotional Health.’ 

“We have very minimal advertising,” Madhava says. “We are adamant that the user experience should be priced above all short-term revenue generators.” mDhil does sell some of the content to mobile carriers. Recently, it tied up with Airtel for the telecom firm’s subscribers to receive health information on their mobile phones. 

Madhava credits his creative team with ensuring the quality of content. The company has doctors on its staff as well as a specialist team. Most of the content is in English, and work on translating them in different Indian languages is under way. “We have already started translating some of our videos into Hindi. We plan to launch in Tamil and Kannada shortly.” This he hopes will make the information more accessible to populations that do not know either English or Hindi. Mobile videos in more regional languages is expected to drive the company’s future growth. 

Trying to find investors and teams that shared his vision wasn’t easy, but Madhava persisted. “Video and health SMS content in India is very generic. Most of it is either news, about Bollywood or astrology. That convinced me that health was an unexplored niche with potential.” 

A lot of the information on the site deals with reproductive health diseases and safe sex choices but the site isn’t aimed at just young audiences. “Since we are mobile and web-based, we knew a lot of young people would be among our earliest users. We want our information to serve them well but our sections have something for all age groups.” The topics discussed are diverse. So there are videos on the cervical cancer vaccine as well as articles aimed at keeping teachers healthy. 

“There are seven people watching an mDhil video every minute,” adds Madhava. The service’s Facebook page has been liked by more than two lakh persons. 

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