It's an accepted fact in medical translation that quality is non-negotiable and that patients' lives are impacted by the existence (or absence) of quality. But as an example from Egypt highlights, accurate translations can have lives hanging in the balance as much as translation mistakes.
A U.S. citizen was jailed as a drug trafficker in Egypt in December after he imported a shipment of non-drug hemp oil. He was freed from jail only late last month when mobs of protesters overran prisons across Cairo, but he remains in legal limbo.
Mostafa Soliman, who operates a company called Health Harvest, has so far been refused a new passport by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, which means he cannot leave the country. If he stays in Egypt, he faces a possible death penalty if convicted of drug trafficking.
Language and translation issues are to blame for his predicament.
When the shipment of bottled hemp oil arrived at Egyptian customs in December, authorities translated "hemp oil" as "hash oil. Because Arabic does not have a distinct word for "hemp", any concoction from the cannabis plant, whether high THC or low THC, is simply called cannabis.
This situation exists in every language combination and translators have to wrestle with it frequently. Luckily, the stakes are usually lower than in this case.
For more information, see the article in The Reason and HIA's press release.
[Thanks to Mary Shillue for the tip and Dolly Dearner for the editorial help!]
Stay in touch with ForeignExchange on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.