CAIRO: Google.org recently launched Health Speaks, an initiative which encourages community-based, crowd-sourced translations of health information with the assistance of Google Translator Toolkit.
Health Speaks pilot programs for Arabic, Hindi and Swahili began last week and are supported with a donation incentive, awarding local charities with funds based on the number of words volunteers translate.
The Health Speaks team has chosen hundreds of what they deemed good quality English-language health articles from Wikipedia for translation.
Daily News Egypt sat down with Wael Ghonim, Google’s product and marketing manager for the Middle East and North Africa, who is responsible for leading Google’s product strategy in the region and help growing Arabic content online.
“We thought of health because [it] is one of those very sensitive topics that require structured content that is professional, high quality [and] trustworthy which people with medical backgrounds have checked,” said Ghonim.
“It’s proven that the more health information provided to society, the healthier a society gets, particularly with prevention of specific diseases, health tips and diet information,” he added.
According to Google, volunteers who are bilingual in English and either Arabic, Hindi or Swahili are encouraged to translate the articles with the assistance of Google Translator Toolkit, make the content locally relevant, review and publish to the corresponding local language Wikipedia site.
For the first 60 days, Google.org will donate 3 cents (US) for each English word translated to the Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt 57357, the Public Health Foundation of India and the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) for the pilots in Arabic, Hindi and Swahili, respectively, up to $50,000 each.
“I think this is a fantastic project for us and I really believe in trying to disseminate information all across the world, so when Google approached us they said we were seen as one of the leaders in the region for healthcare treatment,” said Patricia Pruden, children’s cancer specialist and strategic planning executive at the 57357 hospital.
“We are very happy that they wanted to do this, and the idea was that for every word that was translated we get funds adding up to a maximum of $50,000, which is very important as the hospital is entirely supported by donations,” she added.
Google envisions that the initiative will allow community translators to help their friends and neighbors access quality health information in a local language, while also supporting a local non-profit organization working in health or health education.
“Language should not be the barrier that denies millions of people worldwide the opportunity to improve their health with valuable information,” said Jennifer Haroon, manager of health initiatives at Google.org.
In many parts of the world, information that may help people improve their health is not readily available online in local languages. A 2004 Lancet article described the lack of access to health information as a “major barrier to knowledge-based healthcare in developing countries.”
The authors noted that “among currently available technologies, only the internet has the potential to deliver universal access to up-to-date healthcare information.”
Speaking about why they chose Wikipedia as their main partner, Ghonim said, “The internet is becoming more and more mainstream and this makes it more critical to have high quality, well-structured professional content on the web and Wikipedia has proven itself as a reliable source for information for many people.
“Today, around 2 million people visit Wikipedia per day.”
Ghonim added that use of internet in the Arab world is increasing in general, particularly with respect to health topics, but stressed that there is room for improvement.
“One of the top Arabic search queries during the H1N1 was for information about H1N1 in Arabic,” he added. “A lot of people today rely on the internet to get information. The moment you here about a disease or epidemic like this people go straight to the internet to search for information.”
He also explained that if you look at Wikipedia and compare the amount of available Arabic content to content in German, for example, you will see German content is six or seven times more. Meanwhile, there are 350 million Arabic speakers compared to 27 million German speakers. This means that there is definitely a gap that needs to be filled.
Ghonim said that the outcomes of the project will be monitored closely and that Google is expecting expansion by adding more content and eventually reaching out into other fields if this pilot project succeeds.
The Health Speaks initiative will also gauge whether volunteers in community-based, crowd-sourced translations is an effective means of getting quality health information translated.
For more information, please see visit www.google.org/healthspeaks.