Ebola Prevention Lost in Translation

Ijr620vIn the midst of the worst Ebola outbreak in history, and cases of Ebola turning up around the world, information about disease prevention is increasingly crucial. In the West African countries where Ebola continues to spread at alarming rates, not only is there a lack of adequate medical resources and trained professionals, but a lack of information about Ebola prevention in the many languages spoken in the region.

Lori Thicke, founder and president of Translators Without Borders, remarked in an interview with the BBC, “ We wouldn’t go into rural France with posters in English, so it seems to us a little bit shocking to go into rural Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone with posters in English.”

Thicke wrote an op-ed piece for NewStatesman pointing out that “ignorance about Ebola can be as fatal as bodily contact with an infected person.” Translators Without Borders posits that there is a strong correlation between failed communication in West Africa and lack of adequate translations. Ignorance about how Ebola is spread is not only a problem at the epicenter of the outbreak, but internationally. Language remains a significant barrier in disseminating accurate information about Ebola prevention in the U.S., especially in multicultural, multilingual communities.

For example, the Chinese community panicked when poorly-translated news about China’s ban on Norwegian salmon led many to believe that salmon were carrying the Ebola virus. Now, many cities are scrambling to provide information about Ebola to dispel myths and curb fear and panic in the languages spoken in their communities. Funds and the race against the clock prove to be challenges in providing crucial translations. In Dallas, after the Ebola diagnosis of Thomas Eric Duncan, it took $4,000 and a week to write fact sheets in Dallas’s most common world languages.

Translators Without Borders, government officials at all levels, and healthcare workers are calling for wider access to translations in native languages to educate the public about Ebola prevention.

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