A Fight for Awareness in the Age of Globalization

10/02/2014 10:55 am ET Updated Dec 02, 2014

We live in an age where information has never been easier to access. With the tap of a thumb or the click a mouse, we can immediately retrieve tens of thousands of health articles.

But only if we know the language.

Despite the overwhelming amount of online content published in Western languages, a lot of that content isn't available in others. Even global-savvy brands and organizations often overlook some of the languages for the sheer difficulty of finding the resources to translate their content.

People around the world may be able to access the Internet, but there's very little waiting for them when they do finally connect. The connected revolution happened so fast across so many different communities that organizations weren't able to globalize content for each and every audience in time.

It's important for organizations to come together to change that, especially in the midst of tragedies like the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Humanitarian agencies have always had a hard time getting the right information to affected areas, but through collaborative efforts, that's finally changing.

Healing with Knowledge

Everyone deserves to be able to access healthcare information in their native language. In many instances, that's the only way to be sure that the information is accurate. Automated translation tools like Google Translate can cause a lot of confusion if someone is trying to diagnose an illness. In fact, in Africa, Google Translate only supports six African Language. Bing Translate doesn't support any.

Some organizations have recognized the dire need for native language healthcare translations. Translators without Borders, for example, was founded after the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010. Since then, the organization has completed pro bono translations of more than 20 million words for more than 250 nonprofits.

When it comes to delivering aid, communication is key. If no one can understand the organization's mission, then there won't be much community support. It's impossible for aid workers to be everywhere at once, but the global reach of the Internet is becoming a boon for many nonprofits.

Wikipedia is the most viewed health resource online, which means that translating health information articles can go a long way. Translators without Borders has partnered with Wiki Project Medicine to do just that, launching the Wikipedia 100x100 Project, which aims to translate 100 articles into simplified English and pass those articles off to be translated into other languages.

This project is comprised of translators, organizations, researchers, policy makers and others who are dedicated to translating crucial healthcare information pieces into native languages that otherwise don't have ready access to this kind of material. This is an especially important goal in countries where there are very few healthcare workers, the communities are rural, and doctors are hours or even days away. In the context of the Ebola outbreak, this problem is very real.

In the most affected countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone, there's a severe shortage of healthcare personnel to work with patients and affected families. According to The BBC, Liberia, with a population of 4.2 million people, has 51 doctors, under 1,000 nurses and midwives and 269 pharmacists. Sierra Leone has a population of 6 million, with 136 doctors, 1,017 nurses and 114 pharmacists.

When it comes to an infectious disease like Ebola, education is just as important as aid. By translating the "Ebola" article into more than sixty different African languages altogether, Wiki Project Medicine has dramatically expanded the resources that can be used in building awareness among the population about fighting and containing the virus.

Translation: The Gateway to Globalization

Globalization offers a world of benefits (literally) for emerging economies. With Internet access, a child in a rural village in Senegal can tap into a near-limitless network of knowledge and learning, or a parent can watch a video about healthy cooking practices.

The Guardian reports that, in the next five years, Africa is expected to lead the world in becoming "the mobile continent," with Internet access via phones growing by twentyfold. As phone and data costs decline, the opportunities for Africans to use the Internet as a learning device will increase at an explosive rate. Already, there are healthcare offerings springing up to accommodate this trend. MedAfrica, for example, offers healthcare information to users via mobile phones.

When this kind of technological growth and innovation is paired with the resources made available by organizations like Translators without Borders and Wiki Project Medicine, globalization can become a powerful force of health education across an entire continent. Communication is the first step to learning, and learning is the first step to a better life.

This post is part of a special series produced by The Huffington Post in recognition of the threats posed by Ebola, particularly to West Africa. To see all the posts in the series, read here.