Covid-19 is a global health emergency, a pandemic. Originating in China, it soon spread to Iran, Europe and North America. It was taken to Australia, South America and Africa. According to the World Health Organisation, it has spread in a few months to 212 different countries and territories. Perhaps paradoxically, it is some of the wealthiest communities and most well equipped of health systems that have succumbed to one of history’s most contagious respiratory diseases. In Asia, Vietnam has done better than much wealthier Singapore. In Europe, Greece and the Eastern European nations have fared better than Western Europe. The virus has hit the Big Apple in the U.S. harder than Arkansas or Tennessee.
Because Covid-19 is a global health emergency, it means that governments and people around the world have had to listen to health experts. Daily, chief medical officers and Ministers of Health appear on TV sets providing details of how many new cases of the disease there have been; how many deaths have occurred and outlining any changes in strategy. Wise politicians have let them steer policy.
Why Medical Translators are Essential in the Fight Against Covid-19
In addition to medical experts and scientists, methods of communication have become tested. This pandemic has been more widespread and more dangerous than the last three pandemics, swine fever, MERS and SARS. It reminds historians of the deadly Spanish flu that swept the world just after the First World War. What is so different of course is the methods of communication available today, even if the ability to actually deal with the virus is no better. If Covid-19 is to be beaten, it won’t be achieved by nation-states retreating into their own borders, ignoring what is going on everywhere else. The only way that SARS-cov-2 is going to be eradicated, or at least defeated, is for a vaccine to be developed. That is going to be an international venture. In fact, dozens of vaccine trials are going on, at different stages of development, all round the world. Antiviral drugs are being examined for effectiveness. Governments collaborate on health policy. All this international health effort is only possible because of the existence of thousands of medical translators.
Medical translation is one of the most specialised, but important, of translation fields. Most medical translators have become translators after a career in medicine. Medical translators don’t just need to be able to be fluent in one or more languages other than their own native tongue. They need to understand medical terminology and be familiar with medical techniques. Medical translators cannot afford to make mistakes as they can be fatal.
What do Medical Translators Actually Translate?
Medical translators are primarily involved in the translation of medical text. They translate medical documents, research material intended for peer review around the world, manuals for medical equipment, information about drugs and prospective drugs, treatment techniques and government health policy.
Medical translators don’t just aid international medical communication. Many countries these days have substantial populations of immigrants, some of whom have become an established part of their host country while others are temporary residents and workers. When health policy is shared by government policy makers, it has to go out to everyone, whatever their native language. As Singapore has discovered to its cost, an effective fight against Covid-19 stalled when it was realised that the virus had spread within the dormitories of temporary immigrant workers.
Some of the most rapid cases of spread of the disease in more affluent countries have been in residential homes for the elderly. SARS-cov-2 is indiscriminate in its attack. Older people and those with underlying health problems, especially those in these vulnerable rest homes, are far more susceptible to catching Covid-19. Workers in many of these care homes are often poorly paid immigrants who may not even have a good grasp of the language of the country where they are working. Governments cannot afford to ignore these communities. Communication must be universal. Medical translators are essential when it comes to help preparing leaflets, posters, slogans and instructions in all the languages used within a country.