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The Importance of Medical Translation During the Pandemic

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Since then, we have witnessed how the virus triggered the greatest health, economic and social crisis of the 21st century, and turned the world as we know it on its head.

Throughout 2020, we saw how the scientific community reacted to the pandemic and how quickly we adapted to the situation. Vaccines were developed in record time, and thousands of pages of COVID-19-related documentation was generated. Medical translation played an important role in making this possible.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on language

Never before have media outlets spent so much time – or created so many headlines – covering medicine, virology and epidemiology. Suddenly, we were all using terms that were once only heard in medical centers and laboratories.

According to, the most searched terms in the U.S. between March and May 2020 included nonessential, SARS, quarantining, ventilator, asymptomatic and hydroxychloroquine.  Other terms became everyday topics among the general public as well, such as cluster, viral shedding, N95, PPE and community spread.

The use of technical terms became so widespread that the International Association of Translators of Medicine and Related Sciences (Tremédica), in conjunction with Cosnautas, launched a COVID-19 (English-Spanish) Glossary with nearly 5000 terms related to the pandemic.

Medical translation’s role in the response

Overnight, thousands of researchers and laboratories from several countries began working tirelessly to find a way out of the health crisis. This meant shutting down existing clinical trials while also launching new clinical trials focused exclusively on COVID-19.

These new clinical trials were designed, first to identify the most effective drugs to to treat the virus, and then to test the new drugs. This created the need to translate both clinical and preclinical information. Because the virus was spreading fast, it was important to study the new COVID strain and find effective treatments against it in record time… which also created the need to translate findings in record time.

In that time, gathering and sharing scientific information has been a top priority. Volumes of information has been pooled from studies conducted by public and private organizations as part of the collective effort to:

  • combat contagion
  • learn more about the disease
  • understand how the virus works
  • identify new treatments
  • discover the most effective way to fight the virus (e.g. develop effective vaccine)

Meanwhile, companies had to continue business as usual (or something close to it) while keeping their employees safe. They created internal documentation and communicated contingency plans related to COVID, including changes to those plans as protocols evolved. Collaboration between global workforces resulted in the need to translate notifications, authorizations or letters from drug agencies concerning changes in test documentation to adapt them to the new COVID-19 protocols.

Let’s not forget that the import and export of sanitary equipment and protective equipment multiplied overnight during the pandemic. This sudden surge not only involved the translation of commercial purchase and import agreements, but also the technical translation of health equipment manuals and other related documentation.

It’s important to maintain a flow of precise and accurate information, even under typical circumstances. The constantly changing environment during the pandemic, especially in the medical and pharmacological fields, made it even more important to keep the authorities, health professionals, the general population, the press and companies up to date on symptoms, protective measures, and vaccine development. Medical translation made this possible.

When science advances as quickly as it did in 2020, the importance of medical translation quickly becomes apparent. Translation played a pivotal role in sharing information about COVID-19 and served as a catalyst for communication among (and between) medical agencies and the general public. By using translators who were experts in the medical field, the messages shared across the globe maintained the highest level of rigor and precision, and they helped us fight the crisis together.

Visit Ubiqus to learn more about our expertise in medical translation.

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