Translation for international organizations during public health crises is inevitable. When a public health crisis is international, linguists are automatically a part of the equation in the effort against the ailment. Even in regional outbreaks, translators for social development are needed. In the United States, for example, about 25 million residents have limited English proficiency, also known as LEP. This means that international development translation services must be consulted if we want to keep the population safe.
The latest international public health crises we’ve seen are Zika, Ebola, and, of course, COVID-19. One of the tricks, when it comes to public health crises, is that their containment relies heavily on international communication. Which is exactly where international development language agencies come in. Let’s consider this by looking at these three latest international public health crises.
2019 – Present: The COVID-19 Public Health Crisis
Starting in China in late 2019 and pronounced a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March of 2020, COVID-19 has shook the world into what many call “the new normal”: remote work, surgical masks, and ritual quarantining. Across the globe, governments issued, and continue to issue, health mandates. These include lockdowns, social behavioral practices, travel restrictions, and widespread face covering usage, all of which need international development translation services in order to serve present ethic groups.
Before the antidotal vaccines were ready, society’s principal defense was information on how to behave. And the information would only be effective if it reached everyone on the planet, since the virus had become widespread and highly communicable. Hence, the call for international development translation for NGOs skyrocketed. This was exacerbated by the underrepresentation of thousands of language on the internet.
2018 – Present: Translation for International Organizations During Ebola
From 2014 to 2016, Ebola swept across seven countries in Western Africa, marking the largest outbreak of its kind in history. Declared a PHEIC by the WHO, the UN health agency issued a bid for international. The disease causes severe hemorrhaging and kills every second person who contracts it. It wasn’t until 2016 when the affected nations were declared Ebola-free.
However, in 2018, African countries like the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda saw another eruption of the Ebola virus. It’s now considered the second largest outbreak. Government translation services have to be able to connect global agencies with the many language groups in the affected countries. International translators’ work is redoubled because not only are they helping contain the spread but this new Ebola case has taken place in the midst of violent political struggles.
2015 – 2016: Translation for International Organizations During Zika
2015 Brazil is where the Zika virus outbreak began, with the WHO proclaiming it PHEIC in 2016. In that same year, more than 60 countries were affected by the mosquito-borne virus, including the United States. Government communications were instrumental in keeping communities safe. This was done by circulating information, protocols to be followed and recommendations. One of these included a bid for women to hold off on becoming pregnant, since infected pregnant women were bearing children afflicted with microcephaly.
A polemical point, the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which had been slated before the occurrence of the Zika public health crisis, was not called off. As it always is, the role of the public health interpreter was indispensable to keep local communities safe. But with such a massive global event like the Olympics, taking place right in the eye of the storm, efforts had to be concentrated. Airports, seminars for Brazilians, seminars for foreigners, websites, written material: all these communicational endeavors had to pass through the hands of a qualified public health translator or head of localization services so that the information wouldn’t be lost on anyone and lives could be protected. Late 2016 marked the end of the outbreak.
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