Blogs about translation often tend to focus on its value to businesses that have an international reach and deservedly so. Global businesses depend on communication across language barriers and that means effective professional translation.

Global Pandemic

However, the current Covid-19 pandemic has also thrown into the limelight the value of translation to help coordinate the global effort to combat the effects of the deadly coronavirus that has swept the world, causing millions of deaths and catastrophic effects on many of those businesses that have been written about when discussing the value of translation.

Ironically, the very conditions that precipitated the swift spread of the virus, a mass global movement of people and goods also means that a global approach to dealing with the disease is essential. Global cooperation in a public health context depends on the efforts of professional translators. This article explores just how translation can help in the current pandemic.

1. The race to identify the genetic makeup of the SARS-COV-2 virus and discover how it emerged

Much of the initial discovery of the virus happened in China. It was first identified as a novel coronavirus in Wuhan and its relationship with other respiratory transmissible coronaviruses was also recognised by Chinese virologists. However, its significance for the rest of the world soon meant that these discoveries couldn’t be contained within China and would soon be communicated throughout the world. The first key discovery was the genetic sequence of the mRNA strand found within the body of the virus. This formed the basis of the Covid-19 tests now used around the world together with the search for an effective vaccine.

All these frantic discoveries were shared by geneticists, biochemists, virologists and government public health bodies around the world, demanding accurate translation of thousands of documents in multiple languages. Scientific and medical translation is a specialised niche within the translation industry usually requiring bi and multilingual translators with a biochemical and/or medical background.

2. The dramatic effort in research and development that led to the turning of the vaccine tap

Almost as soon as Covid-19 was announced as a global pandemic with enormous public health concerns in just about every country around the world, the race to find an effective vaccine began. Vaccinologists in the U.S., Europe, Russia and China were remarkably able to develop prototype vaccines within just a few months. These ranged from mRNA vaccines like those developed by Pfizer and Moderna to more traditional vaccines that had been developed for seasonal influenza. Again, the research and development efforts were not confined to single nation-states but, like so many scientific and technological endeavours, spanned multiple scientists and vaccinologists speaking multiple languages. Translators were called upon again to ensure that accurate translation of scientific documents and test results were possible.

3. Countering misinformation and providing information

Countering the global pandemic has been left to national and often regional public health bodies, but in many cases, this has required rules and regulations on public movement and behaviour the like of which have not been witnessed since the Second World War. This pandemic has seen a huge effort to convey information about the dangers of the disease and how to avoid it as well as the requirements that governments have made on behalf of suppression of the virus.

Accompanying the raft of information has been a deluge of misinformation, centring on incorrect information about the existence of the virus, as well as efforts to generate vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccination messages. Public health bodies have often had to use professional translators with extensive understanding of local ethnic communities to get across the health messages and counter misinformation. An example in Australia is the use of translators to explain lockdown rules and why vaccination is so important to migrant and refugee communities in suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney where the disease has taken hold recently.