Language experts from Makerere University in collaboration with public health officials have translated key messages about COVID-19 in six major languages in Uganda namely; Luganda, Runyankore-Rukiga, Ateso, Luo, Lugbarati and Kiswahili, including Braille for the visually impaired.
According to the experts, led by Dr Allen Asiimwe from the Department of African Languages, Makerere University, the exercise was born out of the observation that there are communities and individuals in Uganda who are not well sensitized about COVID-19 due to language challenges.
The exercise was part a research project titled “Communicating COVID-19-related messages in multilingual contexts” that was supported by the Government of Uganda under the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (RIF). Members of the research team included Dr Asiimwe (Principal Investigator), Dr. Sarah Nakijjoba, Dr. Medadi Ssentanda, Dr. Innocent Masengo, Mr. Chris Sserwaniko.
Launching the translated materials at Makerere University on 2nd September 2020, Dr Asiimwe explained that most messages about the pandemic were communicated in English yet Uganda is a linguistically diverse country with so many people who are not proficient in English.
“While the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Uganda supported by the Government of the Republic of Uganda instituted measures to fight the COVID-19 in Uganda, many of the messages about the pandemic were largely communicated in English and Luganda, leaving many Ugandans unspoken to. In addition, many of the messages were transmitted through channels which were inaccessible to all Ugandans - they were not designed in favor of people with disabilities (PWDs), and yet some translated messages are rendered ineffective, a factor that could lead to misrepresentation and miscommunication,” the experts noted.
They expressed gratitude to the Government of Uganda for the support rendered towards the exercise and called for more funding to translate the messages in all the other native languages.
In his remarks, Dr Robert Wamala, Member of the RIF Grant Management Committee, appreciated the researchers for the job well done. He thanked the Government of Uganda for the support that has enabled the University to contribute to national development.
In 2019, Makerere University received funding worth UGX30 billion from the Government of Uganda to support high impact Research and Innovations that inform National Development Priorities. The objective of the Research and Innovations Fund (RIF) is to increase the local generation of translatable research and scalable innovations that address key gaps required to drive Uganda’s development agenda. Under the RIF project, a number of Academic and Administrative units at Makerere University have received grants to conduct research on issues undermining the development of the country. Following the outbreak of COVID-19 early this year, the University through the RIF Grant Management Committee made a special call for academics to research on the pandemic. A total of 121 projects on COVID-19 were awarded grants worth UGX8.2 billion. The results from these projects are visible. They include the materials translated by academics from the Department of African Languages, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the touchless handwashing kit for public shared spaces (College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences) and the Low-cost Medical Ventilator (Bulamu Ventilator).