San Diego Refugees Need Medical Translation Services

In San Diego, there is a large refugee population, many from Eastern Africa and various Somali tribes. Many of them don’t speak English when they arrive, and though they are able to get by with help from children and neighbors, they are finding it difficult to locate medical translation services.

Women Have the Most Difficulty with Medical Translation

Though the whole refugee community struggles with finding adequate translation help, it is doubly difficult for women. One woman told the story about her immigration and first hospital experience, and it reads like a horror story. She was pregnant when she arrived in the United States, and shortly afterwards, she gave birth.

Though she was a registered nurse in her home country and was familiar with the hospital setting, she wasn’t yet familiar with the English language and had no way to communicate with the doctor. In her country, it is common for women to be circumcised, and she needed to communicate certain medical procedures that would allow her to have her baby without unnecessary pain. However, there was no professional translator available for her, and instead she was forced into a difficult and painful delivery.

In California, there is a law that prohibits neighbors and children from acting as legal translators. Instead, people need to have professional translation services for things like medical and legal translation issues. The problem with this is that there are not enough professional translators to go around, and often the women from the cultures in Eastern Africa and Somalia are uncomfortable with male translators.

Trying to Solve Translation Problems From Within

La Maestra Community Health Center is located near the Eastern African community and cultural center, and they have started to help with the translation problems by hiring and training people from the local community. Many of the community members are being trained in the clinic, so that they are able to provide translation for prescriptions and other medical papers and products.

However, many community members who are being employed for translation services are not yet able to be fully reimbursed. This is because translation alone is not able to be reimbursed; the translator needs to provide some sort of medical or legal translation help to be paid, and they aren’t always qualified to do this.

In some cases, the refugees have simply stopped going to the doctor because of all the complications and hazards involved. Some have reported that they were given the wrong medicine, were misdiagnosed, or were even given the wrong surgery, all because of translation problems. In response, many second generation refugees are beginning to enter the medical field, and they hope to one day see a change for the better.


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