I've written before on the economic benefits of investment in telecom, including a summary article for the Fall 2006 issue of At Your Service, where I concluded (emphasis added for today's discussion):
Investment in telecom is more productive than investment in other kinds of infrastructure. The impact is particularly noticeable in developing nations.
None of this is to downplay the developing world’s need for clean water, public health initiatives, and access to medical care, but if there is one area where capital investment provides outsized returns for individuals and nations, it is mobile telecom. And telecom is one area where developing nations can easily attract outside capital with regulatory policies that favor open access and competition. Best of all, mobile handsets work without a permanent electricity supply, people can use them without learning to read or write, and technical advances continuously drive down costs.
... the best household survey in India - it's the gold standard against which all surveys compare themselves. The first survey was conducted in 1992-93, the second in 1998-99 and the third in 2005-06.
From this survey, and confirmed by other sources as discussed here and here, it's clear the performance of India's public health services has been terrible, but health and fertility outcomes are tremendously better. Again from Ajay (emphasis mine):
What is going on? I think the main insight is that the health of the people reflects lots of things. It reflects nutrition, sanitation, knowledge, private purchases of health services and the outcomes delivered by the public health system. It is by no means controlled exclusively by the public health system; when people talk about improvements to the public health system as the only channel to having a healthier population, this is flat wrong. When people get richer, they buy better food, better sanitation and cleanliness, more knowledge (e.g. education within the family), and services of private doctors / hospitals. India has been experiencing powerful economic growth, which is trickling down to poor people. So even though the public health system is doing badly, health outcomes have improved, amongst poor people.
So, while I worry about clean water and access to medical care in developing countries, perhaps my chosen career, i.e. telecom, is contributing more to these issues than I'd thought.