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Rethinking the role of translation in a connected world
Leiden, Netherlands: – For Dutch-based life sciences translation specialist MediLingua, recent medical crises like the Ebola epidemic in West Africa have led to a transformation in the way translators work and partner with others.
MediLingua founder and CEO Simon Andriesen says disasters such as the Haiti earthquake, the Ebola crisis and, most recently, the Nepal earthquake have also sparked global reappraisal of the roles of translation and processing of information in combating medical crises.
Based on his experience in working in African languages in his role as director of Translators without Borders (TWB), Mr. Andriesen is urging governments and NGOs to recognize the importance of language and communication in mitigating the effects of disease and disaster, claiming that many lives could have been saved if the correct lessons had been learned earlier.
“Aid workers must be able to address local people in their own language. In the Ebola countries, in Haiti and in Nepal, English is not understood at all. Even in Kenya, the vast majority of people simply do not understand Ebola warning posters in English, even though it is officially one of the national languages,” says Simon Andriesen.
“We created a ‘Spider Network’ that uses Skype and other channels to connect mainly teachers, as they are likely to be able to speak better English, and they also speak the local dialect. Using Skype enables us to have someone very rapidly translate urgent information into very specific languages for us, passing the translation to the next village and the next, passing translations between each other and back to the staff at our translation center in Nairobi, so that the whole network takes the form of a virtual spider web,” Andriesen explained.
“It was also Skype that enabled the founder of TWB, Lori Thicke, to callme the day after the 2010 Haiti earthquake and seek my help on translation of medical information,” Simon Andriesen recalls.
“TWB had received hundreds of test translations from volunteers and these needed review for accuracy and she needed our help. From there, one thing led to another,” said Mr. Andriesen, who since then has joined the TWB Board of Directors.
“Initially, I focused on Operations and redirected my energies to Training once the TWB Translation Workspace, generously donated by ProZ, was up and running.
“Now Skype allows the Executive Board and TWB Program Director Rebecca Petras to meet virtually every two weeks and basically run the organization,” he added.
The experience of Haiti led Petras, Thicke and Andriesen to co-author a journal article Translation: providing the missing link in access to knowledge published by the Harvard International Review in which they highlighted the opportunities provided by the increasing diversity of the Internet to extend medical communications services further and span ‘the language last mile’.
Mr. Andriesen recently returned from his twelfth trip to Kenya over the past few years, working at the TWB Translators Training Center in Nairobi.
The eight-strong translation team has been involved in the translation of a 300,000-word body of disaster relief documents, into Swahili and partly also into Somali.
The team has also recruited and trained a so-called ‘spider network’ of crisis intervention translators for 12 different Kenyan languages.
“When crises, such as flood, drought, cholera, civil war or Ebola, occur, these translators are asked to drop whatever they are doing and start translating whatever needs to be translated in order to help people survive the crisis,” he explained.
Although TWB’s translation center in Nairobi is its hub for African languages, the organization is also active in other African countries.
“Recently we have been involved in translating a range of Ebola-related documents into several West African languages, and we also organised two training sessions for translators for ‘Ebola-languages’, said Mr. Andriesen.
“The rapid escalation of the Ebola crisis was due in part to a lack of knowledge and lack of clear communication. If people had known, from the start of this outbreak, what to do and what not to do, it is unlikely to have become such a terrible crisis or to have claimed some 8,500 lives,” he declared.
“It does not help when governments or NGOs distribute English or French Ebola warning posters in areas where hardly anyone speaks those languages.”
Thinking global, acting local
With 14 per cent of the world’s population, 28 per cent of the world’s health burden, but only three per cent of the world’s doctors, nurses and clinics, Africa has too many patients and too few doctors.
“The success of our ‘Spider Network’ in mobilizing local dialect translation in Africa shows what can be done with the help of new technology and a little imagination,” says Simon Andriesen.
“In developing nation settings, local context for health information and health education are essential. It is a given that the more a person knows about health, the healthier they usually are. A truly effective response needs to provide language support and translations, translators who also have medical training. We need to convince governments and NGOs that language matters,” said Mr. Andriesen.
“A relatively small investment in translation has a huge return on investment resulting in fewer visits to doctors and clinics, less disruption of the local economies, and – above all – less human suffering,” he added.
Mr. Andriesen also highlights what he perceives as a quality gap in the current market for medical translation.
“As medical translation specialists we do a lot third-party review work, and far too often, we have to conclude that the quality is simply not good enough. Big companies often seem to seek the lowest price and then we often have to decline invitations to tender or participate in auctions.
“It seems that often the price is taken into account, and not the price/performance mix. Too often the focus is on the word rate. We know what it takes to generate safe, high-quality medical translations and we use that expertise for our calculations.
“Others may charge less. But what if the authorities reject the work? What if a product has to be taken off the market due to poor patient information? What if a patient dies because it was not clear whether to take four tablets per hour or one tablet every four hours? What are the costs then?”
“And before you say that last one could never happen, I can tell you that exactly that dosage confusion arose in one patient information leaflet that I have seen,” said Mr. Andriesen.
MediLingua Medical Translations B.V. is a company based in Leiden, Netherlands, that specializes in medical and healthcare translations from and into all European languages as well as several non-European languages, including Japanese, Chinese, Swahili and many others.
The company has over 30 years of translation business expertise and translation teams based in over 40 target language countries. The teams combine medical and linguistic skills to offer specialist services to pharmaceutical and life sciences organizations that include translation and generation of compliant registration dossiers for medicines, packaging texts, patient information, text books and scientific publications. MediLingua also offers source text editing, expert review, in-country validation, cognitive debriefing, use testing, back translation and readability testing services.
More information at: www.pharmaceutical-networking.com/supplier/medilingua
About Translators without Borders
Translators without Borders envision a world where knowledge knows no language barriers. The US-based nonprofit provides people access to vital knowledge in their language by connecting nonprofit organizations with a professional community of volunteer translators, building local language translation capacity, and raising awareness of language barriers. Originally founded in 1994 in France as Traducteurs sans Frontières (now its sister organization), Translators without Borders translates more than five million words per year. In 2012, the organization established a Healthcare Translators’ Training Center in Nairobi, Kenya.
For more information, see: http://translatorswithoutborders.org