COVID-19 AND THE ROLE OF TRANSLATORS AND INTERPRETERS 

The role of translators and interpreters in health settings is a critical element for the proper functioning of any health system, especially in countries with a multicultural background like the United States. They help to bridge the linguistic gap between physicians and their patients. Unfortunately, COVID-19 further complicated a difficult scenario. We must thank all those unnoticed multilingual heroes giving their best in hospitals, shoulder to shoulder with health workers.

AN UNNOTICED THREAT

COVID-19 is shaking the world, and the humanity is now facing an unprecedented crisis. Indeed, this context is only comparable to the aftermath of the two world wars. Unfortunately, nobody paid attention to the warning made by the father of Microsoft, Bill Gates, during his presentation in the TED Talks back in 2015 entitled “The Next Outbreak”. Back then, he said: “if anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war”. And he was not the only person to anticipate this global health catastrophe. In fact, he was just one on a list of people, mostly from the scientific community, that for decades underlined the importance of preparedness in the event of an imminent pandemic to take place, as detailed in an article published by National Geographic on April 8, 2020.

COVID-19 AND ITS IMPLICATIONS IN LANGUAGE AND TRANSLATION

As you may know, language is not a static entity, and is very likely to be influenced by major social changes. Indeed, those changes are taking place as we speak, in a society that is moving rapidly, like never before, thanks to A.I. and Big Data. This has become evident within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, when you run a quick search in major internet browsers, such as Google, of terms such as: epidemic, pandemic, outbreak, social distancing, lockdown, asymptomatic, coronavirus, COVID-19 symptoms, statistics are very revealing. There is an overwhelming wave of information that we can easily associate to this current health crisis. This clearly leads to a surge in the amount of material associated to this topic, and the creation of new concepts and even new words. A wave of new terminology that will eventually need translation into several languages.

HAVE WE EVER EXPERIENCED A SIMILAR HEALTH CRISIS BEFORE? 

Yes. If we look in hindsight, more specifically to the early years of 20th century, something similar occurred. Those were the days of the largest pandemic ever lived by humanity up to that moment: The Spanish Flu (H1N1 virus). It was 1918, and, as a consequence,  medical translation and interpretation became essential to the academic, scientific, and medical research projects that took place back then. In fact, they were part of a desperate attempt to minimize the impact of such a contagious and deadly disease. Those projects gave origin to many successful governmental policies related to disaster and health response and mitigation.

OUR ROLE AS TRANSLATION PROFESSIONALS WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE COVID-19 CRISIS

As in the past, but now with all the possibilities that information technology provides, there are millions of linguists, translators and interpreters doing their best to cope with this crisis. Likewise, translation agencies, such as ITU Translation Services are also doing their part, working tirelessly to guarantee the availability of all sorts of materials in different languages. Medical reports, news, interviews, press conferences, personal protection equipment instructions, corporate documents, among others, require urgent translation into several languages. Translators worldwide are working 24/7. It is important to underline the role of on-site medical interpreting, video remote interpreting and over the phone interpreting. Interpreters guarantee quick and efficient communication between practitioners, nurses and other health workers and patients and their families in medical settings.

In high risk situations, being able to communicate is vital. Unfortunately, amidst one of the more severe health crisis that the world has ever witnessed, there are many patients in the U.S. with limited English skills. They truly have a hard time to receive appropriate medical attention. Spectrum News published a report highlighting how the absence of proper medical interpretation can lead to deadly situations. Under normal circumstances, it was already complicated to count on professional medical interpreter services in many hospitals across the United States. Unfortunately, this  situation has just worsened with the pandemic.

OUR CONTRIBUTION

In ITU Translation Services, we believe the role of translation is essential to defeat this global threat. In fact, we currently provide services not only to educational centers and governmental offices all over America. In addition, we have also offered pro-bono assistance to institutions that have required our support to convey sensitive information to their multilingual audiences. Together, we are stronger.

                                                                                                                       Carmelo Velásquez

                                                                                                                        Language Director

                                                                                                                     ITU Translation Services

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