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WhatsApp In Health Communication: The Case Of Eye Health In Deprived Settings In India

Maitra, Chandrani (2021) WhatsApp In Health Communication: The Case Of Eye Health In Deprived Settings In India. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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The aim of this study was to explore the use of WhatsApp in developing a community based practice of eye health promotion in a deprived locality bordering a metropolitan city in India. Globally, 285 million people are visually impaired, a quarter of whom live in India, which results in lower employment and lessened productivity. The national blindness prevention strategy aims at eyecare promotion through health behaviour change achieved by raising awareness. Traditionally, health behaviour change has been achieved through conventional communication platforms like radio and television-. The recent exponential development in social media technology, ubiquitous and inexpensive, offers significant potential for two-way communication in real time with a wider audience, including those from disadvantaged groups. WhatsApp, an inexpensive social media platform which is widely used in the Indian subcontinent, may offer an important channel for eyecare related health communication. Importantly, no study has systematically evaluated WhatsApp in promoting health communication on eye care in India, specifically in its largely deprived population. This qualitative study used WhatsApp (as an interventional tool) to create an information resource link on basic eye care between a tertiary city based healthcare provider and the deprived community, resident in the fringe of the city. WhatsApp use was facilitated by specially selected local women trained in information usage to disseminate contextual audio-visual information on eye care through multiple ‘educational’ sessions. Perspectives of 10 healthcare providers, 10 community health advocates and 30 women participants from the deprived community, were qualitatively explored. Changes in health behaviour of the deprived community members were also assessed. A thematic analysis was performed to systematically interrogate data to create meaningful themes. This study confirmed the presence of a significant information gap on eye care on the face of high disease burden. The use of WhatsApp was supported unanimously v by healthcare providers and community health advocates as an acceptable, feasible and cost-effective two-way communication tool, although concerns were raised about its hidden costs, privacy and security issues. Acceptability of WhatsApp based information dissemination amongst the study participants was high with reported benefits of increased awareness of eye diseases, their preventative management, remedial measures and the availability of affordable eyecare services. Additionally, study participants found WhatsApp technology appealing and intuitive. The resultant increase in self-confidence, consequent to heightened awareness, boosted social empowerment and enabled study participants to challenge prevalent social and cultural norms. In conclusion, this study demonstrated that WhatsApp can be effectively used as a suitable vehicle of information dissemination on eye care in mediating a behavioural change in deprived settings. Findings from this study may be considered in developing policies that develop and disseminate eye care information. The wider implications and impact of this study lies in disseminating healthcare information related to other important public health issues to the marginal population.

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