Reprinted from the British Medical Journal, Oct. 18, 2011
Language is key to accessing information. Speakers of a dominant language such as English—including most highly educated professionals in developing countries—may easily overlook the fact that the people who most need healthcare information are not likely to have a good understanding of English (or of French, Spanish, or Portuguese).
Language is a large obstacle to comprehension, whether training community healthcare workers with varying levels of education or delivering information to the end consumers—often people in rural communities.
Ironically, people with scant knowledge of English tend to be those who need access to information the most. In the case of Africa, with 25% of the world’s disease burden and only 2-3% of its doctors and nurses, well-informed healthcare workers are crucial. If, however, neither the people themselves nor the village healthcare workers meant to help them have strong English skills, the information they have access to will be understood imperfectly or not at all. The whole chain of access to information breaks down.