During a pandemic, translators and interpreters are essential. As the world comes together to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, medical translation and interpretation is a key way to respond to human needs. Language matters more than ever. Translators and interpreters fulfill a fundamental role to help society receive public heatlh announcements and guidance.
Why language matters during pandemics
Interpreters and translators can give guidance to patients with limited knowledge of the language mainly spoken where they are located. This pandemic context we are now living in, due to the coronavirus COVID-19, is making language professionals fulfill really important roles. In the case of the United States, latinos are nearly half of all confirmed coronavirus cases in California, nearly a quarter in Illinois and, in New York City, more than a third of all COVID-19 victims are Hispanic.
When medical assistance is needed, especially during a global disaster or in the context of social emergency, an accurate understanding of what the doctors are saying represents the difference between life and death. What happens when immigrants or foreigners do not speak the language spoken by their doctors? In that situation, healthcare interpreters are vital.
Many hospitals rely on third-party services that provide remote phone or video interpretation, although on-site interpreters are also increasingly helping on the phone. In the case of people that are really sick, in-person interpretation is the only way to help those patients. Many interpreters are putting their own health at risk every day to assist patients who have been isolated.
Medical research and translation during COVID-19
According to a study published in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry (2020), in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rapid growth in research focused on developing vaccines and therapies. In this context, the need for speed is taken for granted, and the scientific process has adapted to accommodate this. This emergency context has led to significant shifts in our social, political, economic, and scientific priorities. This has also affected both public and private research with the aim of mapping the pandemic and its effects and developing vaccines and therapies.
The need for speed is causing some processes to be bypassed or shortened. This concerns some scientists and professionals. According to Morris, Wooding and Grant (2011), a common gripe about biomedical innovation is that is it too slow, often taking decades for an idea to translate into a technology and for this technology to then be tested, registered, funded, and taken into practice. This slowness can be attributed to various factors, such as resource limitations, cultural barriers, and the need for reflection and critique inherent in the scientific method itself. Research is also slowed by the governance processes that curtail certain behaviors and demand that criteria be met before research projects are funded and before resulting technologies are registered, funded, and made accessible to patients.
When there is a political and public concern, research, dissemination, and translation can be sped up. However, there are some important aspects to consider about what might be lost when biomedical innovation is sped up. As it is expressed in the publication made by the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, three main negative outcomes may take place: 1) lack of methodological rigor, 2) failures in the journal review process, and 3) failure to manage competing interests. The ultimate goal should be to both speed up science and remain attentive to both scientific quality and integrity, to avoid problematic effects.
The need to overcome multilingual and multicultural boundaries in emergency healthcare
Language barriers can have a significant impact in healthcare, for both the patient and the system. Some of the consequences of not satisfying language needs may be: health inequalities, patient safety risks, increased costs related to misdiagnosis and repeated visits, ineffective use of resources, limited access to diagnoses, diagnostic testing, and treatment, longer stays in the emergency department, and also migrant patients may receive fewer explanations and follow-ups (Lundin Christina, et al., 2018).
Communication and transcultural care are fundamental for healthcare. Patients should be approached taking into account their cultural beliefs, values, and practices in order to promote or regain health. Human rights should also be considered when it comes to healthcare, to achieve individual autonomy and safety. Individuals should be treated fairly, equally and impartially. Every patient, especially in an uncertain context, should be able to understand what is going on and to communicate effectively with the medical staff.
Translation and interpretation during the coronavirus pandemic help people gain access to the correct information and the knowledge of how to take actions to ensure their own well-being. Language professionals must work together more than ever to make this ultimate goal possible.