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Harnessing Gazan Freelancers in the COVID-19 Fight
A civil worker disinfectants the UNRWA school as a preventive measure against the spread of coronavirus in Khan Yunis, March 23, 2020. (Yousef Masoud/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Harnessing Gazan Freelancers in the COVID-19 Fight

#Translators_against_corona makes China’s hard-learned lessons available in Arabic

A team of Gazan volunteers has translated a Chinese booklet based on clinical experience in combating the deadly novel coronavirus.

#Translators_against_Corona has translated the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation’s “Handbook of COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment,” written with the support of the First Affiliated Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, through the foundations’ global MediXchange multilingual platform into Arabic.

The volunteer’s Twitter posts have over 15,000 likes and health care professionals and others in the Arab world have downloaded thousands of copies of the translated work.

Mohammed Jaradah, the founder of the group, says the team has grown considerably over the past few days.

“We started with 10 people; then we became more than 20 translators, eight designers and about five proofreaders. All of this in less than three days,” he told The Media Line.

“I’m a digital marketer and I used to read and review many websites. Then I found the “Handbook of COVID-19 Prevention,” but in Chinese and English only. We face the same risks here [in Gaza] so I asked my friends who work as translators: Why not translate this book as an initiative, and they loved the idea. Suddenly there we were, about to finish the work in less than three days,” Jaradah said.

The group has done its best to retain the handbook’s original formatting and style in the Arabic version. Alibaba has not yet certified it but an Arabic-language version is currently under review.

Dr. Eman Abu Shiha, a local physician and freelance medical writer who volunteered for the project, led the effort to ensure the translation didn’t err regarding medical aspects.

“We’ve corrected many incorrect ideas” held by members of the public, she told the Media Line. “People are not frightened enough, and great efforts must be made to reach the level of prevention required.”

Abu Shiha’s sub-team of medical professionals includes one additional doctor, three pharmacists and one nurse. They were critical in the translation team’s efforts to ensure the medical validity of the 70-page document.

According to Jaradah, it’s the first effort in Gaza focused on getting accurate information about countering the coronavirus out to Palestinians.

Abu Shiha agrees. “It’s the first Arabic edition; this information was not presented in Arabic before,” she says. “We already know how serious the virus is; everybody needs to do their share in the preventive measures. We hope that our work will contribute to getting control of this pandemic.”

The situation in Gaza remains complex, in part due to the political situation, but the disease has been slow to make an appearance in the blockaded Strip.

Only nine cases of the novel coronavirus have been identified in Gaza, but the health system in one of the world’s most densely populated areas has long been near collapse. There are only a few hundred test kits available for the 1.8 million residents.

The #translators_against_corona team is acutely aware of the obstacles.

“If the infection rate increases and the virus spreads, our capacity would not withstand the pandemic, as all the health facilities here are in very poor shape due to the siege,” Abu Shiha says.

The group aims to share infographics and other information on social media to encourage healthy practices such as proper hand-washing and social distancing, in an effort to reduce the burden on the limited health facilities.

To get the message out, the group turned to volunteers with extensive social media experience.

Dalia Shurrab is social media coordinator for the Gaza Sky Geeks startup incubator. She is helping the other volunteers to raise awareness. For her, the work has also taken on a personal dimension.

“I suffered from facial palsy eight months ago and my immune system is still weak,” she told The Media Line. “As a social media expert, I use this experience by supporting translators and designers who work on a voluntary basis to increase awareness.

“The team is working hard to deliver its message to the minister of health of Palestine,” Shurrab says, explaining the rationale behind the group’s “tweetstorms.”

Jaradah, talking about the global effort against COVID-19 in the weeks and months to come, says, “We are just trying to take our place in this circle and do what we’re supposed to do to help people around the world.”

Shakir Rimzy is a student in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.

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