Novel coronavirus (28) Multilingual Health Crisis Information Website

17 February, 2020

Dear all,

I have been reflecting on Mohsen Hassani's suggestion to "Create an international website speaking with the majority of languages, containing all the information on the virus, preventive measures, news of its spread and means, international efforts to fight against" (Feb.11). [ I have also read with interest the various exchanges on multilingual resources, such as MEDBOX from Sieglinde Mauder (Feb.11); EvidenceAid from Claire Allen (Feb.12); Translators without Borders; KABP and so on. I am not an expert, but in my opinion it would be feasible to create such a website.

At the UN, the interpreters/translators usually worked from English - so in meetings, a verbal statement by a government official speaking in Russian, for example, would first be translated into English, and then based on the English version, the Chinese and French interpreters would interpret into their languages. So you don't need multilingual people (polyglots) - you need people who can translate from/to their language into English.

As the global health organisation, the WHO should play the role of language manager. It already offers all information in the official languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, Spanish). As far as I know it doesn't have a mandate to do other languages, and that is probably because everyone thinks it would be hugely costly.

But it doesn't have to be so expensive if a different model was tried. The reason the quality of UN translations is so good is because they have really excellent language staff with thorough checking systems. That costs money. However, it could be done more cheaply if national governments took responsibility for translations for their own languages. Or you could have a standing body made up of a variety of members, such as UN country office staff, health associations, NGOs, or citizen volunteers, who are called up to help with translations when the need arises. It just requires a secure system with an appropriate level of checks.

There are several important issues which would need to be thought through, with proper protocols and lines of communication established (a kind of "supply chain" or "blockchain" of information). The system has to be accurate, credible, accountable, and timely. As Julie Reza pointed out (Feb.12), there also needs to be clarification about who the information is for (purpose of the information). But it can definitely be done.


HIFA profile: Jenny Yamamoto is a Doctoral student at Hiroshima University, Japan. She previously worked on transport issues at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok. Currently, she is interested in mobility and access to health services in rural areas in both developed (Japan) and developing countries (South Asia). As part of her research, she will also consider the ways in which communication technologies and mapping of health information can contribute to better health outcomes. yamamoto.jenny AT