It has now been over a year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that the world was immersed in yet another pandemic. The fact that the world had become so globalised, because international travel for business, leisure, and escape from war and oppression had reach ed an all-time high, no doubt had a huge influence on the speed at which the SARS-COV-2 virus reached almost all corners of the planet.
On the other hand, the fact that a huge majority of the world was now connected by the Internet and fast, effective forms of communication meant that the pandemic could be fought with means that no pandemic had used before. Science, especially medical science, had become one of the world’s most important weapons and because of the global nature of the pandemic, affecting literally hundreds of communities whose languages were so different, medical translation assumed a status it had never before experienced.
The need for medical translation
Covid-19 was a new disease, caused by a new virus, although similar respiratory diseases had emerged before in different parts of the world. The very term ‘pandemic’ implies that the virus and the disease it causes have spread beyond the borders of the country it originated in and has become widespread and uncontained around the world. News of the rate of infection, who is being infected, as well as important diagnostic information, must be shared between dozens of different health administrations and governments. This immediately makes the work of professional medical translators immensely important.
Covid-19 can cause long-term chronic illness and short-term serious health complications and death. From an early date, it was realised that the hunt for effective drugs to treat the disease, effective vaccines to immunise large populations and ways to prevent the disease from spreading was on. This involved a huge international collaborative effort, something which hasn’t ended because the pandemic is still with us. Thousands of doctors, epidemiologists, vaccinologists, biochemists, and other medical professionals have cooperated across language and geographical borders in an attempt to stop and reverse the effects of the virus. They depend on medical translators and their ability to translate medical terms to accomplish their work.
Medical terms become part of everyday language
One of the more amazing features of this particular pandemic is the fact that so many medical terms related to the nature of the virus itself, the symptoms of the disease it causes, methods of preventing transmission as well as the use of what have been by necessity experimental drugs and vaccines have become part of everyday speech. A German medical translator scrambles to explain what PPE is, whether hydroxychloroquine is of any real value and the differences between AstroZeneca and Pfizer vaccines to a German-speaking public. Brazilian health officials, struggling with one of the world’s worst waves of infection, must use medical translators to communicate with Chinese vaccine manufacturers and distributors in purchasing cheaper Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccines. A vaccine can be researched by scientists in one country, tested in another country, developed by a drug country in yet another country, manufactured in a fourth, and then distributed with instructions all around the world. At each step, medical translators must precisely and accurately translate medical meanings and information.
Medical translators by necessity must be specialised translators with one foot in the translation industry and the other in the medical sector. There is no room for beginner translators when it comes to something as important as translating in the middle of a pandemic.