Dear HIFA colleagues,
Congratulations to Anne Roca, Yap Boum and Isabelle Wachsmuth for organisinng and participating in a special session of the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) in Kigali, on such an important topic. Their commentary is an important wake-up call.
The issues raised are part of a much larger problem of language as a major barrier to health for all (the problem goes beyond researchers, to include health workers, the public, and policymakers; beyond journals to include all forms of health communication; and of course beyond French to include Portuguese, Spanish and the many other languages spoken worldwide).
This is why HIFA, working in collaboration with WHO, has a strong focus on multilingualism and runs global health forums in French, Portuguese and Spanish (with more languages to come). Despite the limitations of machine translation, I have personally used Google translate (with warnings to readers!) to engage in discussions on HFA-Portuguese and HIFA-English (my French is reasonably good). But is is also important that we promote communication among different language groups and not create language silos. In the future, HIFA aims to include machine translation so that we can all interact in our own language.
The five steps described in Roca et al's commentary are all important, but professional translation is expensive and for many journals it is economically out of the question to translate the full text of long papers from English into French (Portuguese, Spanish...). That said, there will be occasions when there is a compelling case for such translation, bearing in mind the length of the paper, the readership, and the affordability.
We need to raise awareness among the journal publishing communityat large (and beyond) that language is a huge and neglected issue, and to work with the World Association of Medical Editors and others to explore possible solutions.
Of special concern is the fact that much research undertaken in non-English speaking countries is nevertheless published in English-language journals and is therefore inaccessible to many of those who need it most. In September 2018 we wrote (also in The Lancet Global Health):
'We call on the medical journal publishing industry to take action to address this anomaly. The simplest first step would be for journals to make at least the abstract available in the main language or languages of the country in which the research was done... Many journals already publish at least the abstract in two or more languages (eg, the Bulletin of the World Health Organization provides abstracts of all papers in all six UN official languages)...' https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(18)30384-X/fulltext
All stakeholders in the global healthcare information system need to work together to tackle this issue. 'HIFA is ready to work with The Lancet Global Health and others to create a world in which every person has access to the information they need in a language they understand to protect their own health and the health of those for whom they are responsible.'
Best wishes, Neil
Coordinator, HIFA Project on Multilingualism
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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG email@example.com
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