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Samoan language key to disseminating health messages

The importance of utilising the Samoan language to convey vital health messages to the public was highlighted at a workshop for journalists and Government officials at the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel this week.

Linguist Galumalemana Alfred Hunkin raised the point during a question and answer session with the Ministry of Health [M.O.H.] Director General, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri.

He said most members of the public are Samoan language speakers and readers and that messages from the M.O.H. must be disseminated clearly using the correct words or terms.

Galumalemana asked if the M.O.H. has a committee that translates English information into Samoan and is provided to the media for dissemination to the public.

“It’s important and the wording must be good,” he added.

In response, Leausa said there is a health promotion team within the M.O.H. which conveys important health messages to the public.

As far as translations from English to Samoan, he indicated that the Ministry utilises the Government Press Secretariat.

The M.O.H. gives the information to the Government Press Secretariat which translates the English information into Samoan with Leausa adding that there is a lot to deal with when it comes to the Samoan language. 

According to Leausa, the Government's press team specialises in the written word and has the expertise to translate English into Samoan for consumption by the public.

“English is a second language and it can be interpreted differently from a Samoan perspective so we have to be careful,” he said.

The Samoan language has limited vocabulary and it has no word for “virus,” Leausa added, and emphasised the importance of the media in sharing information publicly.

He pointed to “scary” news articles that could possibly create fear amongst the public, and noted that when people are sick it is a “sensitive” situation that patients like to keep private and confidential.

“When people become sick they are very private and they don’t want their identity to be exposed,” he said.

“When information is sensitive [and published by the media] people lose their trust in the media. Some articles are quite scary…so we have to very cautious…we don’t want to cause unnecessary panic.”

He said the M.O.H. would like to see quality writing and reporting by the media and media must also respect people at the centre of news reports.

Leausa said he hopes the media and the M.O.H. can develop a relationship of “mutual trust.”

Some 10 media organizations are participating in the three-day workshop at the Tanoa Tusitala. It closes on Friday. 

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