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Medical translation shaped 2020: Here’s what it needs to do in 2021

Published on January 28th, 2021

Every industry will look back at 2020 as a pivotal year, for better or worse. Many have been shattered by the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequences of lockdowns, travel restrictions and other responsive measures. Some industries are lucky enough to benefit from the outbreak, such as supermarkets and the home health and fitness niche.

Other industries have stepped up to lead the fight against the global pandemic and medical translation has shaped the staggering progress made throughout 2020. It has shaped the collective international effort to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, but it has also highlighted a number of weaknesses that must be addressed throughout 2021.

How medical translation shaped the early fight against Covid-19

The global Covid-19 pandemic has put pressure on medical services around the world, killing almost 1.5 million people and putting millions more with existing health conditions at greater risk by preventing or delaying routine treatments.

At the same time, the international response to the pandemic is unlike anything in living memory – particularly, the effort by medical authorities and scientists working to develop vaccines and new treatments. Vaccine development that would normally take years or decades has made remarkable progress in the space of months with several potential vaccines already in the human trial stages.

None of this would have been possible without the global collaboration of medical experts around the world.

Speaking on a Citywire Funds Fanatic podcast, practicing NHS surgeon and national clinical director for innovation at NHS England, Professor Tony Young PhD, praised the response of health professionals in the NHS and beyond.

“Quite frankly, everyone’s rolled their sleeves up across different organisations, whether it’s clinical commissioning groups and provider organisations in the National Health Service, [or] whether it’s organisations around sharing data,” he said.

“Collaboration has been accelerated and I wonder how we can keep hold of that and what lessons we can learn, because just imagine, we’ve unlocked this now, if we could continue that rate of industry or funders or commissioners of healthcare or providers of academia working together – wow, that could really transform the future of healthcare and life sciences.”

– Professor Tony Young PhD

Where protectionism and language barriers have stood in the way of international progress against health crises in the past, the shared fight against Covid-19 has united health experts with the same goal of dealing with a global pandemic.

This has been helped by the latest technology and medical translation techniques that mean experts from opposite sides of the world can collaborate, share findings and work together without communication issues slowing down progress.

The results are most obvious in the rapid development of vaccines, but it has also prompted authorities to reconsider international medical collaboration efforts for the future.

Weaknesses that must be addressed in 2021

While Covid-19 has brought the best out of global medical responses, it has also highlighted some of the greatest translation problems we face moving forward. As linguist Gretchen McCulloch wrote for Wired earlier in 2020, Covid-19 is history’s biggest translation challenge while WHO had announced an “infodemic” related to the outbreak.

One of the most pressing challenges has been delivering health advice and guidelines to people in their native language. This was especially problematic when governments first started implementing travel restrictions and lockdown measures with tourists still inside the country.

However, the issue persists for people residing in countries when they are not native speakers of the national language.

These issues aren’t unique to Covid-19 and we have seen localised problems during recent Ebola outbreaks in Africa and natural disasters in places like Haiti. Those worst-affected by such issues don’t necessarily speak the same language as aid workers and national organisations.

This disconnect has been emphasised by the coronavirus outbreak and revealed how much progress needs to be made in 2021 if the world is going to find a way of overcoming or living with Covid-19.

Today, we have all of the medical translation practices and translation technology which allow us to close these language gaps, but organisations around the world first need to recognise the need for a more inclusive access to information to overcome the “infodemic” WHO is talking about.

We already have the tools to tackle this challenge but ensuring information is available in the thousands of languages currently spoken in the world is a big project, by any measurement. All nations need to work together to avoid vaccine and treatment poverty – especially in the most vulnerable or economically challenged communities – as it is a collective responsibility to help overcome the information poverty that is becoming increasingly prominent in a post-pandemic world.

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Posted on: January 28th, 2021