A large number of migrants residing in Lisbon do not speak Portuguese and therefore cannot access key COVID-19 health messages. AKF Portugal has been working with the government and volunteer translators to ensure that they do. AKF Portugal’s Sandra Almeida discusses the work being done by the Foundation and some inspirational volunteers.
Briefly, what is the current situation in Lisbon as it relates to COVID-19?
Portugal has not been as badly hit by COVID-19 as its neighbour Spain but it is vulnerable. It has more citizens aged over 80 than anywhere in the EU except Italy and Greece, and a health service that is poorly equipped and underfunded. It also has the lowest number of critical care beds per 100,000 people in the EU.
As of today (May 4th 2020) there are 25,524 confirmed cases and 1,063 fatalities. The total number of suspected cases is around 252,889 people. As the capital city with the greatest proportion and concentration of people, Lisbon has obviously been hit the hardest, with 22.6% of suspected cases and 17.7% of fatalities were recorded in the city and surrounding suburbs.
Lisbon is home to a large number of migrant Asian communities from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and other countries, who often live in cramped conditions in the multicultural centre of the city. It is not unusual for eight people to share a room in an apartment with only one bathroom. As such, these groups are particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19, and this vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that there are very few COVID-19 related health messages in languages other than Portuguese.
“Literally overnight, the leaflet was translated into Bengali, Hindi, Nepali and Urdu.”
Tell us about this project: who is involved and what are they doing? What is AKF’s role? Who benefits from this work? Are they vulnerable? How?
To support these vulnerable migrant communities, many of whom cannot read Portuguese, the Lisbon Central Cluster of Health Centres (ACES Lisboa Central) requested AKF Portugal to help translate the official ‘evaluation checklist of habitability and feasibility criteria for home isolation‘ in order to assess the need for quarantine internment.
AKF in Portugal does not have a health portfolio but works in collaboration with the public health system and migrant communities to ensure that migrants can contribute to, participate in and benefit from the healthcare system.
We immediately started by translating these documents into English and, after having them validated by health professionals, engaged our network of migrant representatives to translate them into other languages. Soon we had several volunteers to support this endeavour, and literally overnight, the leaflet was translated into Bengali, Hindi, Nepali and Urdu. It was amazing to see this response. The following day these resources started to circulate among health centres and are now being used by health professionals.
“Many people here from Bangladesh do not speak the local language so I am helping them understand all the latest news and information.”
Nayem Hasam, volunteer
Next AKF Portugal were requested by ACES Lisboa Central to translate three additional documents:
- ‘10 tips to follow for isolation at home’
- ‘Isolation measures recommended for people sharing the same household with a suspected or infected Covid-19 person’
- ‘Procedures to avoid spreading the virus’
English versions were produced by AKF. The Bengali, Nepali and Hindi versions soon followed, after being translated by AKF’s volunteer network. Audio files of the ‘10 tips to follow’ were then produced by the volunteers with support from AKF and uploaded to YouTube to make sure the information could reach as many people as possible.
Health documents translated into different languages by volunteers
What does the project seek to achieve?
Overall, this project aims to identify the gaps in messages on COVID-19 and then to work with public health services and migrant communities to adapt materials to address those gaps. In doing so, the Aga Khan Foundation is supporting efforts to slow transmission in Lisbon.
This is a process that has been aided by AKF’s role as a bridge between the public health system and migrant communities. We have developed it over the last three years working with public systems and the migrant community has been an essential component of being able to support such a request immediately.
Disseminating key messages to and with vulnerable communities is one part of AKF’s response to slow and stop transmission of COVID-19 and minimise its impact on communities in Portugal.
Stay tuned for more stories about our response in Portugal in the coming days and weeks.